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HISTORIC: SENATE PASSES ENDA

Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Washington Blade, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, United States Senate, Democratic Party, Wisconsin, religious exemptions

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) is among the supporters of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

For the first time in history, the U.S. Senate approved with bipartisan support a long sought piece of legislation that would bar employers from discriminating against or firing workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

By a vote of 64-32, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed the Senate, marking the first time that either chamber of Congress has passed a version of the bill with protections for transgender workers.

A total of 10 Republicans voted in favor of the bill: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). All 54 Democrats present voted in favor of the legislation.

The vote also marks a turnaround for the Senate. In 1996, a version of ENDA came to the floor as part of a deal to bring up the Defense of Marriage Act for a vote, but the pro-gay bill failed at that time.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), ENDA’s chief sponsor, delivered a speech on the Senate floor recognizing the historic nature of the moment.

“I look forward to this vote, this vote for liberty, this vote for freedom, this vote for opportunity, this vote for a fair and just America,” Merkley said.

Merkley also recognized the “champions of liberty” he said helped move ENDA forward like lesbian Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Republican senators who joined in support of the bill.

Senators approved ENDA after three days of debate on the legislation, which began on Monday morning. Many senators spoke out in favor of the legislation ranging from Democrats like Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to Republicans like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) invoked the LGBT non-discrimination law in Minnesota as evidence the country can enact a similar statute on a nationwide basis.

“We have had this law in place for over 20 years in Minnesota, and what has been the effect?” Franken said. “For LGBT Minnesotans, it has meant that they don’t have to live in fear of being fired, or discriminated against in hiring, just because of who they are or whom they love. That is a big deal.”

The only senator to speak out in opposition to the legislation was Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.). On Thursday morning, Coats said he couldn’t bring himself to support ENDA out of concern for religious liberties of employers — despite the exemption in the bill for religious institutions.

“I oppose discrimination of any kind, and that includes discrimination of individuals or institutions for their faith and values, which often gets lost and has been lost in this discussion,” Coats said. “So there’s two types of discrimination here we’re dealing with and one of those goes to the very fundamental right granted to every American through our Constitution, a cherished value of freedom of expression and religion. And I believe this bill diminishes that freedom.”

Flake, who initially expressed opposition to the bill over its transgender protections, said he ultimately voted “yes” on the bill “to protect the rights of individuals.” In 2007, Flake voted as a U.S. House member for a version of ENDA with sexual orientation-only protections.

“While I had concerns about expanding protections beyond those House provisions, after consideration, I believe supporting this bill is the right thing to do,” Flake said. “I am hopeful that the bill moves forward in a way that works for employers as well as employees.”

McCain issued a similar statement saying he voted in favor of ENDA because of his opposition to employment discrimination.

“I have always believed that workplace discrimination – whether based on religion, gender, race, national origin or sexual orientation – is inconsistent with the basic values that America holds dear,” McCain said. “With the addition of an amendment I co-sponsored with Senators Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte strengthening protections for religious institutions, I am pleased to support this legislation.”

Advocates praise vote, look to House of Representatives, White House

LGBT advocates heaped praise on the Senate for passing ENDA as they turned their attention to the House of Representatives, where Republican control makes passage significantly more challenging, and the White House.

Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Senate made history “by standing up for a fundamental American truth.”

“Each and every American worker should be judged based on the work they do, and never based on who they are,” Griffin said. “This broad Senate coalition has sent a vital message that civil rights legislation should never be tied up by partisan political games.”

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, commended the Senate for approving ENDA on a bi-partisan basis and said the House should take the same action.

“The Senate has taken a bi-partisan and historic step toward ensuring that gay and transgender Americans have the same workplace protections that give all Americans a fair shot to succeed on the job,” Almeida said. “Our fight now moves to the House of Representatives where Speaker Boehner and the Republican Conference will have to decide which side of history they want to stand on.”

Both Griffin and Almeida said President Obama should follow up on the Senate vote by issuing an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in LGBT discrimination.

Griffin said the directive would send a clear signal against “in support of workplace fairness” in addition to a House vote.

“This order is not a silver bullet, and ENDA is vitally necessary after the order is signed,” Griffin said. “But the Human Rights Campaign has long argued that, by signing the order, President Obama can extend workplace protections to over 16 million American workers.”

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, responded to Senate passage of ENDA with dismay.

“Americans should be free to disagree, but ENDA would lead to a form of reverse discrimination,” Perkins said. “Anyone who expresses or promotes a view of family or morality that can be interpreted to be a disapproval of homosexual or transgender conduct will be subject to retaliation and discrimination.”

Despite claims like these from social conservatives, LGBT advocates have insisted that the bill would do nothing more than prohibit employers from discriminating against LGBT employees.

Speaking with the Washington Blade prior to the vote, Merkley said the task now for ENDA supporters is taking the momentum from the Senate to “create an irresistible pressure” for consideration in the House.

“With no shred of an argument to sustaining this type of discrimination, and a strong bi-partisan vote in the Senate, I hope we can create the pressure in the House to act,” Merkley said.

Similar to prior claims made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Merkley predicted that ENDA would pass the House if Republican leadership held a vote on the legislation.

“I do believe that if an up-or-down vote was held on what we would pass through the Senate that it would pass the House,” Merkley said. “If a majority of the House is ready to say ‘no’ to discrimination, it is wrong for the leadership to block that vote, and I hope that they’ll come to see that view and allow such a vote to happen.”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney addressed the vote on Thursday during his routine news briefing taking place at the same time, saying passage of ENDA in the House would be the “right thing to do because we’re all equal.”

“To oppose this kind of legislation is to announce that you want to be left behind by history,” Carney said. “The necessity of making sure that every American has equal rights is fundamental to our history and to who we are. And that’s what this legislation represents. Some of the objections that I’ve heard from members in the House are reminiscent of objections that opponents of other civil rights legislation put forward. And they were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”

The vote on final passage took place about 45 minutes after the Senate invoked cloture by a vote of 64-34 to end debate on the legislation.

The Senate earlier held a cloture vote Monday on ENDA, but that vote was to begin debate on the legislation. A second cloture vote was necessary to end debate and proceed to final vote.

ENDA amendments debated

Two amendments were also discussed with respect to the legislation. One was adopted, the other was not.

On Thursday, the Senate defeated an amendment proposed by Sen. Pat Toomney (R-Pa.) that would have expanded the groups eligible under ENDA’s religious exemption. That amendment, which required 60 votes to pass, failed on a 43-55 vote.

Prior to the vote, Toomey said his measure was an attempt to “strike an appropriate balance,” saying he opposes discrimination against LGBT people, but “another important American value is freedom, and particularly religious freedom.”

But Harkin spoke out on the Senate floor against the Toomey amendment for going too far. Noting ENDA already has a religious exemption, Harkin said if the Toomey amendment were approved, “thousands of for-profit businesses” would be allowed to discriminate.

Baldwin also said the expansion of the religious exemption that Toomey proposed wasn’t the appropriate balance.

“A capable employee in a non-religious [institution] should not be fired, or not be hired, because of his or her employer’s individual religious beliefs,” Baldwin said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) initially cast a vote “no” vote in opposition to the amendment. But just before the vote was called, he rushed into the Senate chamber to inform the clerk he wanted to vote “yes” on the measure.

Notably, even though his amendment failed, Toomey voted “yes” in favor of ENDA during final passage.

On Wednesday, the Senate adopted with no controversy by voice vote an amendment to ENDA, introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), to ensure that institutions that invoke the religious exemption under ENDA won’t face retaliation from state, local or federal governments. LGBT advocates didn’t oppose the measure because they said it would simply reinforce the status quo.

Speaking on the floor, Ayotte commended the Senate for adopting the amendment to ENDA, which she said enables her to come on board in support.

“I have long been a strong supporter of the rights of conscience, of the rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution to religious freedom, and these protections are very important within this bill,” Ayotte said.

Two other amendments that were filed — one proposed by Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to attach a national right-to-work law to ENDA, another proposed by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that reportedly would have banned sex-selective abortions — didn’t come up for a vote.

Merkley said only the Portman and Toomey amendments were allowed to come up as a part of a unanimous consent agreement reached on Wednesday.

07
Nov
2013

Baldwin sworn in as first openly gay U.S. senator

Tammy Baldwin, United States Senate, Wisconsin, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) speaks at a reception following her swearing-in ceremony. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In a historic day at the start of the 113th Congress, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) was sworn into office on Thursday as the junior U.S. senator from Wisconsin, officially becoming the first openly gay senator.

At a reception that followed in the Russell Senate Office Building, Baldwin thanked more than 100 supporters and Democratic donors in attendance and called on them to continue the fight to enact change for the country.

“I am proud to have the honor to have been sworn in an hour or so ago as the first woman senator for the state of Wisconsin and as the first openly gay member to serve in the United States Senate in our nation’s history,” Baldwin said, eliciting applause from the audience.

Baldwin attended the reception after being sworn in on the Senate floor by Vice President Joseph Biden along with other freshman senators and colleagues who were re-elected. The room erupted in cheers and applause as she entered after being sworn in as a U.S. senator.

Also attending the reception was Baldwin’s mother, Pam Bin-Rella. As Baldwin began to speak, Bin-Rella was standing with a cane near the podium before Baldwin. The new senator said she had to address a “little logistical matter” before she continued, then positioned a wheelchair nearby for her mother to take a seat.

“I’m going to thank you the best way that any public official knows how to thank you: I’m going to ask you to do more,” she continued. “As I ran to make a difference, I intend to make a difference. Just like nobody wins a Senate seat alone, nobody moves a state or a country forward alone.”

Baldwin was sworn in on Thursday on the same day as the entire membership of the U.S. House for the 113th Congress. That includes openly gay Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.).

United States Senate, Herb Kohl, Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Herb Kohl (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Introducing Baldwin at the reception was outgoing Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), whom Baldwin will replace in the U.S. Senate after his 24 years in Congress. Kohl said Baldwin has “all the qualities I, and I know, so many others look for in somebody to represent us all across the state of Wisconsin.”

“After I got elected, as a senator from Wisconsin, I got a phone call from my predecessor, Sen. [William] Proxmire,” Kohl said. “And he was effusive in his praise of me, and he predicted that I will be a model senator. He said that several times, and he was very careful in his use of words, so I couldn’t forget that he used the word ‘model,’ and I wondered why he used that word specifically. So, I went to the dictionary and looked up that word: ‘model — a model is a small replica of the real thing.’ So, I’m not going to tell Tammy that she’s going to be a ‘model’ senator.”

At the event, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told the Washington Blade that Baldwin’s swearing in as a U.S. senator marked “a real historic day.”

“Having Tammy Baldwin serve in the United States Senate is historic,” Griffin said. “To have one of us inside the chamber is meaningful for a number of reasons because we have a champion now that’s one of us in the Senate. But it also makes it more difficult for those who are against us to look at our colleague in the eye and to talk negatively about LGBT people, so I’m so excited to be able to work with Tammy as she begins today as a United States senator.”

Other LGBT notables at the event were Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; Brian Bond, director of constituency outreach for the Democratic National Committee; and Peter Rosenstein, a D.C.-based Democratic activist. Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Kirsten Gillbrand (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) also made appearances.

Baldwin’s staff said the senator wasn’t taking questions at the reception. She’s yet to participate in an interview with the Washington Blade since her election, despite numerous requests to her transition team.

Chad Griffin, Paul Ryan, Human Rights Campaign, HRC, Republican Party, Wisconsin, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin speaking with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson)

Paul Ryan mingles with Baldwin supporters at reception

Another notable guest at the reception was fellow Wisconsinite and House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan, who was the Republican vice presidential nominee last year. He attended the reception early on and left before Baldwin made her appearance.

Ryan’s appearance at a reception largely attended by Baldwin supporters — many of whom are LGBT — is noteworthy because of his anti-gay voting record. Ryan was a keynote speaker during the annual Value Voters Summit last year, which was hosted by the anti-gay Family Research Council.

At the reception, Ryan declined to take questions from the Blade, saying he wasn’t speaking to the media at the occasion.

Griffin was seen talking briefly with Ryan at the reception. Later, Griffin told the Blade he wanted to speak with him because LGBT advocates can’t only engage with their allies.

“Look, it’s just as important that we talk to our friends as it is that we talk to those who are often against us,” Griffin said. “And so, I introduced myself and thanked him for being here at Tammy’s event and told them I hope we can find some things together to work together on.”

Asked for specifics on what they could find in common, Griffin replied, “It was a private conversation. So, I’ll leave it at that. But it was general conversation about my desire to find some common ground on things.”

Ryan, who’s still considered a rising star within the GOP, posed for photos with attendees. Among them was Jo Deutsch, the federal director for the New York-based LGBT group Freedom to Marry. At a point while taking photos, Ryan declared, “We’re all personal friends,” although it’s unclear to whom he was referring.

Kevin Seifert, a Ryan spokesperson, said in response to a request for comment that the congressman was “pleased to attend” the Baldwin reception.

“Congressman Ryan has served with Senator Baldwin for years and he wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate her as the next senator from the great state of Wisconsin,” Seifert added. “As to the conversation with Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, it was a private conversation and I do not have any further information about the nature of their discussion.”

The former vice presidential candidate voted against hate crimes protection and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and voted on two separate occasions for the Federal Marriage Amendment. Still, he was among a handful of Republicans who voted for a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in 2007, although he previously voted in favor of a motion to recommit to scuttle the bill on the House floor.

CORRECTION: An initial version of this article mistakenly identified Jo Deutsch as a Republican. The Blade regrets the error.

04
Jan
2013

Video: Baldwin sworn in as first ‘out’ US Senator

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcynUdYxI4g

Vice President Joe Biden swears in Wisconsin’s newest U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin, who happens to be the first U.S. Senator openly from the LGBT community.

07
Jan
2013

Senate GOP urges Supreme Court to uphold DOMA

United States Senate, Republican Party, Utah, Kentucky, Iowa, Orrin Hatch, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, gay news, Washington Blade

(from left) Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are among the Republicans urging the Supreme Court to uphold DOMA (Photos public domain)

Senate Republicans are arguing the Defense of Marriage Act should be upheld as constitutional because withholding federal benefits from gay couples discourages states from legalizing same-sex marriage.

The 30-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 29, argues that Section 3 of DOMA promotes the restriction of marriage to one man, one man while by “removing an incentive” to change state law.

“The prospect of obtaining numerous federal benefits for same-sex couples could be a tremendous weapon in the arsenal of those who would seek to gain recognition of same-sex marriage at the state level,” the brief states. “It would be particularly tempting for courts to recognize same-sex marriage in order to award federal benefits to sympathetic plaintiffs.”

The brief was filed in the case of Windsor v. United States on behalf of 10 Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).

Grassley’s participation in the brief is notable because the state he represents in the U.S. Senate, Iowa, is among the nine where same-sex marriage is legal. Also of note are the scant 10 signatures on the brief, which falls short of even one-fourth of the 45 members of the Senate GOP caucus.

Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the brief’s argument that DOMA should be upheld to discourage efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at the state level demonstrates how “arguments made by our opponents get more tortured with every passing day.”

“This is a great example of how far down the rabbit hole they have to go to find justifications for discrimination,” Sainz said. “In essence, the senators are arguing that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples want to get married just for the benefits. Not only is it a ridiculous argument, it’s an affront to our humanity and any reasonable American would see it as such.”

The brief has three main arguments for why DOMA should be upheld: 1) DOMA didn’t change federal law, but reaffirmed the existing definition of marriage; 2) DOMA promotes a government interest in ensuring uniformity in existing law on marriage; and 3) DOMA ensures federal benefits won’t be used to “undermine traditional marriage” at the state level.

Additionally, the brief notes that one of the friends of the court, Hatch, was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time DOMA was signed into law and received assurances from the Justice Department the measure would be constitutional. The Obama administration has since said the law violates the U.S. Constitution, and won’t defend the law in court.

“If the Department believed that there was an inadequate federal interest to justify DOMA, the time to speak was in 1996, when Congress gave careful consideration to the need for DOMA,” the brief states. “Rather than urging the courts to give appropriate deference to an Act of Congress, as befits its proper role in our system of government, the Department now groundlessly impugns the motives of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that supported DOMA.”

The brief also disputes the notion that Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus of the basis of the bipartisan support the measure enjoyed at the time, including from then-President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law. Clinton has since called for repeal of DOMA.

“The fact that DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming support across the political spectrum, and was signed by into law by President Clinton, further undercuts any attempt to characterize it as the result of unconstitutional ‘animus,’” the brief states. “Many DOMA supporters were on record as opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.”

The attorney who signed the brief is Michael Stern, an attorney based in Fairfax, Va., who’s contributed to Republican political campaigns.

[h/t] Equality on Trial

08
Feb
2013

Sen. Hagan on marriage: ‘It’s time to move forward’

Kay Hagan, United States Senate, Democratic Party, North Carolina, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) joins six other Senate Democrats in backing same-sex marriage this week, as the issue is taken up at the Supreme Court. (Photo courtesy Hagan’s office)

Yet another Democratic U.S. Senator has spoken out in favor of extending marriage rights to same-sex couples, this time North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, who took to her Facebook page Wednesday morning to declare her support.

“Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue,” the first-term Senator wrote. “After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry.”

Hagan joins Senate Democratic colleagues Tim Kaine (Va.), John Tester (Mont.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Mark Warner (Va.) and Claire McCaskill (Mo.) in coming around in recent days, as the Supreme Court hears challenges to Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

Earlier this month, Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman announced his change of heart, saying he was influenced when his son came out as gay, setting off what seems to be a domino effect with his fellow senators on the other side of the aisle.

Hagan opposed last year’s ballot measure to amend North Carolina’s constitution to explicitly bar same-sex nuptials. The measure, however, known as Amendment One, passed with 61 percent support from voters. Shortly after, President Obama revealed to ABC News’ Robin Roberts that he had come around to support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Hagan faces a 2014 election in a red state where in 2012 Barack Obama lost the state’s support after winning North Carolina in 2008. Hagan’s support comes one day after the Huffington Post included her in a list of 10 Senate Democrats that the site believed should publicly back same-sex marriage. Others on that list include Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The Senator’s full Facebook statement supporting marriage equality, read as follows:

Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue. After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn’t tell people who they can love or who they can marry.

This wasn’t a decision I came to overnight, like my Republican colleague Rob Portman expressed recently on his own viewpoint. Last year, I opposed Amendment One because I was concerned about the negative consequences it could have on North Carolina families and our economy. The fabric of North Carolina and what makes our state so special is our families and our common desire for a brighter future for our children. No matter what your family looks like, we all want the same thing for our families – happiness, health, prosperity, a bright future for our children and grandchildren.

Religious institutions should have religious freedom on this issue. No church or minister should ever have to conduct a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs. But I think as a civil institution, this issue’s time has come and we need to move forward. Jobs and the economy are the number one issue for me and for North Carolinians right now, and I’m not going to take my eye off that ball at a time when so many are still struggling.

“I know there are strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for their opinions,” Hagan said later in the day Wednesday in an interview with the News & Observer. “But after much thought and prayer on my part this is where I am today.”

27
Mar
2013

Kirk becomes 50th U.S. senator to back gay marriage

Mark Kirk, gay news, gay politics dc, enda

Sen. Mark Kirk became the 50th sitting member of the U.S. Senate to back nuptials for same-sex couples on Tuesday. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk on Tuesday became the 50th sitting U.S. senator — and the second Republican in the chamber after Ohio Sen. Rob Portman — to back same-sex marriage.

The announcement came on the heels of one from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), who became the 48th Democrat in the Senate to back gay nuptials. Lawmakers in Delaware and Illinois are mulling legislation that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples this year, and both announcements could reignite momentum for marriage equality in those states.

“When I climbed the Capitol steps in January,” Kirk wrote on his blog, “I promised myself that I would return to the Senate with an open mind and greater respect for others.”

“Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage,” the statement continues. “Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.”

Kirk was absent from the Senate for nearly one year after suffering a stroke in January 2012, which he alluded to in Tuesday’s marriage pronouncement.

Kirk has been a long-time supporter of some LGBT legislation, backing employment protection legislation since he arrived in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001.

He initially opposed U.S. House efforts to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” during his 2010 Senate run. However, after the election, Kirk — who replaced pro-gay appointee Roland Burris — became a yes vote in that chamber, helping push the repeal to passage.

“With the Republican logjam on marriage equality now officially broken, we encourage Senator Kirk’s fellow Republicans in the Senate and his colleagues in the House to join him, Senator Portman, Congressman Hanna, and Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen on the right side of history,” Log Cabin Republicans executive director, Gregory T. Angelo, said in a statement.

“With Senator Kirk’s support, the U.S. Senate is now ready to move to the right side of history in support of same-sex couples’ freedom to marry,” wrote Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson in response to the announcement. “Just as we have seen a majority of Americans embrace the freedom to marry, so the Senate is now on the verge of a majority for marriage.”

02
Apr
2013

Durbin calls on Ill. lawmakers to approve marriage equality

Dick Durbin, Richard Durbin, United States Senate, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade, Illinois

Sen. Dick Durbin is calling on Ill. lawmakers to pass marriage equality (D-Ill.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate is calling on legislators in his state to pass legislation that would make Illinois the 10th state in the country to legalize same-sex marriage.

In a letter dated Jan. 3 to state lawmakers, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) talks about his own evolution on the issue of marriage rights for gay couples, saying he’s concluded that “ending this discrimination” against them is “consistent with the evolution of civil rights in our democracy.”

“Every generation is given a chance to put an end to some form of discrimination in America,” Durbin writes. “As you consider this historic vote, I hope you will reflect on those you will meet after it is cast. An affirmative vote will give you a chance to look into the eyes of those who have faced discrimination throughout their lives and tell them that you voted to affirm their rights under the law.”

Durbin has previously expressed support for marriage equality and among the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who voted to report out to the Senate legislation that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act last year. As a U.S. House member in 1996, Durbin voted in favor of DOMA.

Supporters of same-sex marriage in Illinois were pushing to pass same-sex marriage legislation by the time the General Assembly adjourns on Jan. 8. According to the Windy City Times, the legislation won’t come to a vote this week and “repeated foibles” bring into question whether the bill will pass before the next session begins.

Durbin’s letter follows a statement issued by a White House spokesperson last week indicating President Obama also supports the Illinois marriage equality legislation and would vote in favor of it if he were a legislator in the state, which he was from 1997 to 2004.

The office of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), the junior senator from Illinois, didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the marriage equality legislation. Kirk had only Thursday returned to the Senate after recovering from a stroke.

Had Kirk come out in support of the legislation, he would be the first Republican member of the U.S. Senate to endorse marriage equality. Illinois State GOP Chair Pat Brady has called on Republicans in the state to support the bill, but said he was doing so in a personal capacity.

03
Jan
2013

Year in review: Baldwin elected first openly gay senator

Tammy Baldwin, gay news, Wisconsin, Washington Blade

Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin made history on Election Day when she became the first openly gay person to win election to the U.S. Senate.

In a closely watched contest in Wisconsin, Baldwin, a Democrat, won election to the Senate in a race against Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson. She won the election after serving nine terms in the U.S. House and being the first non-incumbent openly gay person to win a congressional race.

Following the announcement of her victory, Baldwin said she’s “well aware” that I will be the first openly gay member of the United States Senate, but said she “didn’t run to make history.”

“I ran to make a difference — a difference in the lives of families struggling to find work and pay the bills, a difference in the lives of students worried about debt and seniors worried about their retirement security, a difference in the lives veterans who fought for us and need someone fighting for them and their families when they return home from war, a difference in the lives of entrepreneurs trying to build a business and working people trying to build some economic security,” Baldwin said.

Attacks on Baldwin’s sexual orientation were virtually absent from the Wisconsin race, though Brian Nemoir, a Thompson campaign official, circulated a video of her dancing at a gay Pride festival and told media outlets, “Clearly, there’s no one better positioned to talk ‘heartland values’ than Tammy.” The incident resulted in negative press for Thompson, who apologized for his aide’s action.

26
Dec
2012