Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Top Five Straight Allies in Congress for 2009

Who are the leading advocates for LGBT rights inside the Beltway? Well, common sense would lead you to the three openly gay and lesbian politicians currently serving in the U.S. Congress –- Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Barney Frank, and Rep. Jared Polis. Great or legendary figures, but what happens when you get beyond these three folks?

5. Senator Tom Harkin – Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin did what a handful of Senators did this year –- publicly stated that he regretted his vote on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Harkin joined Sen. Arlen Specter and Sen. Chris Dodd in denouncing their vote for DOMA. But Harkin had a sense of eloquence in his comments that made his thoughts seem particularly genuine. It also helps that they came right after Iowa’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s constitution required the recognition of same-sex marriage in order to ensure equal rights for all of Iowa's residents. Talk about reinforcements. “We all grow as we get older, and we learn things and we become more sensitive to people and people’s lives,” Harkin said. “And the more I’ve looked at that, I’ve grown to think differently about how people — how we should live. And I guess I’m at the point that, you know — I’m to that point of live and let live.” Anyone else see visions of their own parents in that statement?

4. Rep. Earl Blumenauer – Count Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer among the legislators blasting the Defense of Marriage Act. Like Sen. Harkin above, Rep. Blumenauer also issued a blaring statement regretting his original vote for DOMA. (Note: Nothing is quite so blaring as one of Rep. Blumenauer’s bow ties.) But Blumenauer not only said he was regretful – he went so far as to say it was the worst vote he ever cast in his entire political career. And that covers more than 37 years (we’re going all the way back to the times of Richard Nixon). Blumenauer also said that he would lobby his fellow legislators in efforts to overturn DOMA. “I will work to make sure that my colleagues who once, for whatever reason, joined me in supporting [DOMA] take this opportunity to correct their record and eliminate an injustice,” said Blumenauer.

3. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand – Talk about crossing the ocean in support of LGBT rights. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand started this year as kind of a Blue Dog Democrat in the U.S. House, and is ending this year as one of the Senate’s biggest supporters for equal rights. Gillibrand is one of the lead voices in the U.S. Senate for repealing the military’s discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and in an interview with the Women’s Rights blog here at change.org, went so far as to say that marriage equality could be the civil rights battle of today’s generation. She even tried to exert some pull with the New York State Senate, encouraging the body to vote for marriage equality legislation earlier this year (sadly, that vote failed). And to top it off? She’s also a supporter of a fully inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which ought to be a legislative goal for every LGBT rights activist in 2010.

2. Rep. Patrick Murphy – As the first Iraq War veteran to serve in the halls of Congress, Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Murphy certainly has the bonafides to talk about military issues. That’s why his voice on ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is so critical. But Rep. Murphy isn’t just a casual proponent of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He’s a downright leader on the issue, making it one of his legislative goals, and touring with the Human Rights Campaign’s “Voices of Honor” tour, calling attention to how eliminating gays and lesbians from the U.S. Armed Forces not only smacks in the face of equality and freedom – the very principles that our military stands for – but also threatens our national security. “‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ clearly isn’t working for our military, and it hinders national security and military readiness at a time when America is fighting in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Rep. Murphy said. “My time in Iraq taught me that our military needs and deserves the best and the brightest who are willing to serve -- and that means all Americans, regardless of their orientation.” Anybody have the resume to argue with Rep. Murphy on that? Didn’t think so.

1. (Tie) Rep. Joe Sestak - Another Pennsylvania Congressman, Rep. Joe Sestak has emerged as a fighter for LGBT equality. As Rep. Sestak wrote for change.org earlier this year, one of the fights that keeps him going in politics is the battle to end the only form of institutionalized discrimination still legal in the U.S. – discrimination against LGBT people, as evident by policies like the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In fact, that’s one of the best things about Rep. Sestak – he draws the connection between both of those bad policies in ways that would make even the hardest heart melt. “How can we demand that the 65,000 of our troops who are estimated to be gay act dishonestly and conceal information from their comrades and commanders? No one who serves in defense of liberty should be forced to live a lie,” writes Rep. Sestak. “I cannot imagine denying equal rights to anyone I served with. How can anyone say, we fought and served together, we depended on one another, we risked our lives for this country, but back home you shouldn’t enjoy the rights that you defended?”

1. (Tie) Rep. Jerrold Nadler – Being the lead voice in the U.S. Congress on dumping the Defense of Marriage Act better be good enough to get you first place! Rep. Nadler, long one of the biggest allies the LGBT population has in Congress, continued his streak of homerun hitting for equal rights. This year it came in the form of introducing the Respect for Marriage Act. It’s a proposed piece of legislation that will dismantle DOMA, billed by many as the most discriminatory law passed by the U.S. in decades. Rep. Nadler’s reason for introducing the Respect for Marriage Act (ROMA, if you will!): he wants to send DOMA “into the history books where it belongs.”

Crossposted via Gay Rights @ Change.org

1 comment:

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Tom Harkin did what a handful of Senators did this year –- publicly stated that he regretted his vote on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.

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