The Washington press corps was briefly fascinated last week by the idea of an openly gay or lesbian Supreme Court nominee. The spark that lit the media forest fire was an innocent-enough post on the Victory Fund's blog, GayPolitics.com, pointing out that at least one possible nominee on media shortlists was an open lesbian.
The resulting mainstream media coverage made it seem like we had launched a campaign to pressure President Obama to pick an openly gay person for the job. We did not.
What we did do was respond to multiple media inquiries to emphasize that qualified individuals who happen to be openly gay deserve consideration, and that their sexual orientation should not bar them from public service. We believe this not just about judicial appointments, but also about the thousands of Executive Branch appointments President Obama will make throughout his presidency.
That's why we coordinated the LGBT community's Presidential Appointments Project in early 2008. This multi-organizational effort has seen dozens of its applicants appointed to senior positions in the administration, and it's still fairly early in this process. These appointments resulted not from pressure or campaigns, but because we were able to demonstrate that within the LGBT community are many highly qualified, committed professionals who want to serve their country.
Throughout this week, detractors expressed worry that the choice of an openly gay or lesbian Supreme Court nominee would be tantamount to the appointment of an "activist" for LGBT rights. This is lazy thinking and plainly silly. It demonstrates that many social conservatives believe anyone with real power who isn't straight, white and male is automatically suspect.
If President Obama does not pick a nominee who is openly gay or lesbian, will we be disappointed? Not necessarily. His top priority should be finding someone whose excellence is beyond question, and whose judicial philosophy and temperament he appreciates, regardless of sexual orientation.
But we would certainly be disappointed if we learned he did not choose an openly LGBT person because he listened to those who called that possibility "a bridge too far." To deny consideration of anyone for any job because of his or her sexual orientation is to engage in rank discrimination, something that should have no place in the United States, let alone the United States Senate.
Finally, many commenters this week seemed surprised that the LGBT community is interested in seeing its own in leadership positions in government. Why on earth, they wondered, should sexual orientation even figure into the equation? It's a question they should think about a bit more deeply, because most who ask it are the ones gleefully blocking basic civil rights for LGBT Americans.