Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Place at the Table: Obama Brings Gays Into the Political Process

National Gay Leader, Congressman Barney Frank

After nearly a decade of outsider status, gay and lesbian activists are once again being welcomed in the halls of Congress and the White House. What do they plan on doing with their new access? Lots, it seems.

Access is mostly concentrated in the House of Representatives where three openly gay Democratic members – Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Barney Frank of Massachusetts and newly-elected Jared Polis of Colorado – form the backbone of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Equality Caucus.

While President Barack Obama has pledged his support for gay rights, activists have begun to question his loyalty to right wing groups doggedly opposed to gay rights. Two bills that have passed the House before but stalled due to a threatened Bush veto – hate-crimes and a gay protections (ENDA) bill – will be reintroduced this spring.

“It's one thing to go through the exercise of passing a bill through the House,” Baldwin told The Hill. “It's another thing to pass it through the House and the Senate and have it signed by the president.”

The Matthew Shepard Hates Crime Act is named after the University of Wyoming student who was beaten, shackled to a post and left to die in a field by two men he had met in a gay bar. It would expand the 1969 federal hate-crime law to include crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and disabled persons.

ENDA seeks to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the area of employment. Another two bills will address benefits being blocked by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for the purpose of federal agencies and allows states to ignore legal gay marriage.

Two senators – Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) – have joined two reps – Baldwin and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) – in sponsoring a measure that would extend marriage-like benefits to federal employees. The bill is expected to be introduced next week.

“This is long overdue and I think this is the year to do right by so many lesbian and gay workers with partners,” Ros-Lehtinen told The Hill. “The federal government is the nation's largest civilian employer, and it's about time [gays and lesbians] receive these benefits.”

President Obama appointed a lesbian to the US Claims Court this week, has named gay men to his cabinet, and has already been overtly inclusive to the GLBT community. So the times, they are a changin!
A comprehensive article which details some of the aspirations and goals of the gay rights movement and upon which this text is based is linked below for your further reading:

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