Tackling the Tough Issues
Times are changing for the LGBT community, with recent advances on two important issues: the signing of federal hate-crimes legislation that extends protection to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the repeal of the United States’ 22-year-old travel and immigration ban against people with HIV, which will take effect early next year.
In this election cycle, a record number of LGBT candidates are running for office in Illinois. But even with this progress, and although there are three openly gay members in the U.S. House of Representatives, the community remains unrepresented in the U.S. Senate. As a voice for all of the people of Illinois, I will also be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate, and I will advocate for LGBT interests' in Washington.
Now is the right time for this change, and Illinois is the right place to make it happen. The issue of gay rights is an issue of civil rights – and perhaps it is the civil-rights issue of our day. America has always stood for the promise of freedom and individual rights. As Americans, we should all be concerned when our fellow citizens’ civil rights are compromised. When the rights of LGBT Americans are curtailed, all Americans’ civil rights are at risk.
As U.S. senator, I will introduce legislation that protects the civil rights of gays and lesbians and ends current discriminatory laws and policies, including the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I will also work to end the federal ban on same-sex marriage; strengthen laws protecting all Americans in the workplace; and increase federal funding for HIV research and treatment.
Ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the U.S. armed services is outdated, discriminatory and must be ended. I support President Obama’s pledge to end this practice, and as a member of the U.S. Senate, I will advocate for ending the policy immediately. Militaries around the world allow gays and lesbians to serve openly and proudly in defense of their countries. The U.S. armed services, however, have dismissed more than 13,000 welltrained, competent and dedicated gay and lesbian members since “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was enacted in 1993 – including Air Force fighter pilots, naval officers, Marines and Arabic-language specialists.
Today the United States is fighting wars in two countries and needs every qualified and dedicated service member who wishes to serve. To dismiss gay and lesbian soldiers, sailors, Marines and members of the Air Force and Coast Guard is not only shortsighted – it is also harmful to the military’s mission of defending our country.
Repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
I will actively work for the repeal of the discriminatory Federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996. The federal government – not only individual states – must recognize marriage of all couples, whether straight or gay, within the same civil legal framework. Same-sex couples should be able to exercise their civil rights and to reap all the tax, Medicare and Social Security benefits of civil marriage, as well as benefits from relevant provisions of family, estate and bankruptcy laws.
Currently, gay and lesbian couples are denied more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections that apply to heterosexual married couples.
I support legislative steps such as the proposed Respect for Marriage Act (H.R. 3567; 2009) as a means to repeal DOMA and provide same-sex couples with the benefits of marriage under federal law at all times in all 50 states.
Support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (S. 1584)
As senator, I will work to end all discrimination in the workplace so that terms of employment are based on ability, not on race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2009, gay and lesbian Americans are still at risk of losing their jobs solely because of their sexual orientation, and this must end. Federal employment law should protect LGBT Americans just as it does other Americans.
Support for HIV/AIDS treatment and research
HIV/AIDS has affected every community in the United States, including LGBT Americans. Currently an estimated 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. I support the recent federal extension of the CARE Act, which provides medical care, medication and support services to about half a million people with AIDS, most of them low-income. I will also advocate for increased federal funding for HIV research, especially for the development of an effective HIV vaccine.