- Associated Press - Thursday, September 3, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California state lawmaker drew from experience Thursday in an unusually personal debate over federal rules governing whether gay or bisexual men can donate blood.

California state senators voted overwhelmingly to ask President Obama and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to repeal current U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policies prohibiting men who have had sex with men from donating blood.

Federal officials are in the process of changing the old blood policy — which forbade men who have sex with men from donating blood if they had sex with a man even once since 1977.

SEE ALSO: Gay men should be allowed to give blood after year without sex, federal advisers say

The proposed FDA blood policy would permit gay and bisexual men to donate blood if their last sexual intercourse with a man was at least a year ago.

Blood-using groups support such a policy, as it is similar to that of several other countries and would ensure high-risk donors would be screened out. But gay groups say it still discriminates against gay men, especially those in married or monogamous relationships with a man.

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who is gay, recalled how years ago he was prepared to give blood but was blocked by rules that grew out of the AIDS crisis, when the virus was believed in the 1980s to primarily be spread among gay men.

Mr. Leno noted that the rules allow donations by heterosexual men who may engage in risky sex, but they block donations by gay men like himself who are HIV-free.

“It gets to the core of the discrimination, the fear that historically has existed, finally and slowly dissipating about who gay people are and that there is something dangerous about my blood,” Mr. Leno said.

Testing for disease instead of certain behaviors would help promote blood donations, he said. “There’s no scientific-based reason why we should have blood shortages.”

State Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, a medical doctor, said the current rule was adopted during “a time of uncertainty and I would say fear.”

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, who is as conservative as Mr. Leno is liberal, supported the resolution.

“There’s many things risky and dangerous about the floor manager, but his blood isn’t one of them,” Mr. Anderson said, referring to Mr. Leno. “Too many lives can be saved if we allowed more people to participate.”

The resolution, AJR16, initially passed on a 30-6 vote. In an unusual second roll call, it again passed, 31-4, as several senators changed their votes.

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