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William Barr Confirmed as Attorney General, to LGBTQ Groups' Outrage

William Barr

Barr has contended he's not homophobic, but his stated views on LGBTQ rights tell a different story.

The U.S. Senate voted 54-45 today to confirm William Barr as attorney general.

Barr, who was previously attorney general from 1991 to 1993, under President George H.W. Bush, was nominated by Donald Trump to replace Jeff Sessions, who was forced out by Trump. Barr's stated views on LGBTQ rights are almost as bad as Sessions's.

Barr wrote an article in 1995 for a journal called The Catholic Lawyer in which he contended that advances in LGBTQ rights are marginalizing people of faith. "It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand," Barr wrote in the article, which was reprinted in 2017.

During Barr's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Sen. Cory Booker pressed him about the article. Barr answered vaguely, saying he was being misunderstood as homophobic, and he was "perfectly fine" with "gay marriage," but wanted "accommodation for religion." Booker also asked him if he thought the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be interpreted as banning anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and Barr said Congress would have to amend the law. Sen. Mazie Hirono asked a similar question and got a similar answer.

When Barr was attorney general in the 1990s, he oversaw the detention of HIV-positive immigrants in canps at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Reports have said the immigrants endured miserable conditions. During the hearings, he contended that conditions at the facilities were not inhumane and that the government was in a "Catch-22" situation, as immigrants and foreign visitors with HIV could not be admitted to the U.S. under the law at that time, except by special waiver on a case-by-case basis. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that didn't make it right, but Barr responded that it was right under the law.

Upon Sessions's resignation late last year, Barr and two other former Republican attorneys general, Edwin Meese and Michael Mukasey, wrote a commentary in The Washington Post praising Sessions for his work in enforcing "religious liberty," including "the rights of vendors not to participate in activities that would violate their religious beliefs," meaning, essentially, a right to refuse service to LGBTQ people and others who offend those beliefs. The authors further commended Sessions for rescinding "policies that expanded statutory protections based on gender identity that Congress had not provided for in law," a reference to the Justice Department's stance, under Sessions, that existing law banning sex discrimination doesn't ban discrimination based on gender identity.

LGBTQ rights groups quickly issued statements criticizing Barr's confirmation. "It's alarming and upsetting that a person citing LGBTQ people as a reason for the decline of the United States will now serve as the nation's top law enforcement official," said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD. "There's little doubt that William Barr will carry on this Administration's ongoing efforts at rolling back the progress LGBTQ Americans have made in recent years. This confirmation today reminds us once again that the Trump Administration is no friend to us."

Sharon McGowan, legal director and chief strategy officer forLambda Legal, said Barr must prove himself: "As attorney general, William Barr will be responsible for defending the civil rights of all people, not just the wealthy and the powerful. From his first day on the job, he must make clear that, unlike his predecessor, he will not use the Department of Justice as a weapon of discrimination and bigotry. He must bring new leadership to the Department of Justice, and get it back in the business of defending civil rights and equal justice under law for all people."

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