For decades we have worked for equality. We have worked to fulfill the promise that America is a place without discrimination, and in this new political environment we will continue that fight together.
As a Vice Chair of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Equality Caucus, I wanted to provide an assessment of where our human rights agenda stands as of today:
(1) The President extended some benefits to same-sex Federal employee families. He is actually limited in what he can do without a change in law.
(2) Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin is sponsoring the Domestic Partner Benefit and Obligation Act, H.R. 2517 which has 79 co-sponsors including me. The bill would expand the benefit package, making it mirror exactly the benefits afforded to heterosexual married couples in Federal employment.
(3) The President gave Rep. Baldwin's bill his strong public endorsement last night.
The Hate Crimes Act made crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability illegal as hate crimes. The bill passed the House, once again, on April 29, 2009 but is stuck in the Senate. The White House is pushing the Senate to pass it and is the President will sign it into law upon Senate passage. The Hate Crimes Act also expands the scope of the current law, making it possible to federally prosecute the shooter at the Holocaust Museum for a hate crime.
DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT (DOMA)
There is good and bad news but nothing that can't or won't be overcome in time.
The bad news -- The Justice Department filed a brief supporting DOMA. I read it. First of all, it wasn't necessary to file a brief at all, especially one that asked for the entire lawsuit to be dismissed. Very disappointing. I was unaware that it was coming, as were all of the House members.
The good news - Just this week, the President, in unequivocal terms, called for the repeal of DOMA. He said, "Among the steps we have not yet taken is to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. I believe it's discriminatory, I think it interferes with states' rights, and we will work with Congress to overturn it." Rep. Jerry Nadler, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, is working on a DOMA repeal bill that he plans to introduce after the July 4th recess. I'll be on it.
DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL
Legislation has been introduced by Ellen Tauscher, the chief sponsor of the bill, HR 1283, to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I'm a co-sponsor. I have good reason to believe the President will support this legislation -- but it's not clear when.
You can count on me to continue to work hard on the fight for equality.
Member of Congress
Illinois 9th Congressional District