This nation can only truly prosper when all of its citizens are guaranteed equal rights and equal protection under the law and in every State. I am committed to ensuring equality for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. As a lawyer, judge, and Member of Congress, I have spent my entire life fighting for equal rights for all Americans and am proud of my 100 percent pro-equality voting record regarding legislation that affects the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) community.
On April 29, 2009, I proudly voted in support of H.R. 1913, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the Matthew Sheppard Act in memory of the 21-year old University of Wyoming student who was brutally tortured and murdered in 1998 because he was gay. On October 28, 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law. The passage of this legislation is a testament to our resolve to end violence based on prejudice and hate and to guarantee that all Americans need not live in fear because of who they are.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) was officially repealed on September 20, 2011, marking a historic day for the rights of the LGBT community and our nation as a whole. On December 15, 2010, I proudly voted in favor of H.R. 2965, the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which passed by a vote of 250-175. The Senate passed this measure three days later and President Obama signed the bill into law on December 22, 2010, as Public Law 111-321. This legislation brought an end to nearly two decades of discrimination against some of our most courageous and dedicated servicemen and women, who were forced to be dishonest about themselves or be discharged from the military.
After 18 years of controversy and debate, the 1993 law that bans open service by gay and lesbian Americans in the military is now history. The passage and implementation of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act confirms what the majority of service members, their families, and Americans hold true, that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation runs counter to the values that our Armed Forces embody. However, it is important to remember that change does not happen overnight. While our military leaders have indeed made significant process in implementing the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, inequities in the areas of family support, pay, and benefits remain. To this end, I urge Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to adopt a policy of non-discrimination that includes sexual orientation and work to provide equal benefits to gay and lesbian service members.
I truly appreciate everything that our brave men and women in uniform do each and every single day to protect our freedom and keep us safe. Open service has allowed us to finally give all our troops the true recognition that they deserve. By repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to honor, integrity, and equality for all.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gives states the "right" to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and, for federal purposes, defines marriage as between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Through DOMA, the federal government selectively withholds critical protections and obligations that otherwise would be afforded to legally married gay and lesbian couples.
On May 31, 2012, a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston unanimously ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the constitutional rights of legally married gay and lesbian couples to equal treatment under the law. Simply put, DOMA interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay and lesbian couples federal benefits given to married heterosexual couples. This ruling in favor of marriage equality follows an announcement in February 2011 by President Obama and Attorney General Holder that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would no longer defend DOMA in court, having also determined a crucial provision of the law to be unconstitutional.
I have long asserted that DOMA is not only unconstitutional, but unconscionable and fundamentally unfair. From filing a joint tax return, to sharing health care coverage with a spouse, to receiving Social Security survivor benefits, all Americans should have equal access to the over 1,100 critical benefits and protections that marriage provides under federal law.
While I am hopeful that the case against DOMA will ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court, our work is far from over. We have a responsibility to ensure that that our laws recognize the equal rights of all Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. I applaud President Obama's recent decision to formally support marriage equality, and will continue working together with my colleagues in Congress and civil rights leaders to repeal DOMA in its entirety. I am a proud original co-sponsor of H.R. 1116, the Respect for Marriage Act of 2011, which repeals DOMA and would guarantee that all married couples are treated equally under federal law.
Qualified, hardworking Americans are denied job opportunities, harassed, fired, or otherwise discriminated against just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. There is no federal law that consistently protects GLBT individuals from employment discrimination; it remains legal in 29 states to discriminate based on sexual orientation, and in 38 states to do so based on gender identity or expression. As a result, GLBT persons face serious discrimination in employment.
In the 111th Congress, I was a proud original co-sponsor of H.R. 3017, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (ENDA)*, which includes actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression under its protection.
In addition, I was also a proud co-sponsor of the following pieces of legislation, which seek to extend rights and protections to the GLBT community at home, in schools, in the workplace, within the health care system, and across international borders:
*Please note that any bill not passed by the end of the 111th Congress must be reintroduced in the 112th Congress, which began on January 5, 2011.