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    January 23, 2009

    A switch in time saves Gillibrand?

    Posted by: Chris

    UPDATES: At the end of the post.


    However you felt about Caroline Kennedy's precocious non-campaign campaign to be the new junior senator from New York, she would have represented improvement over Hillary Clinton on marriage equality. For whatever reason, Kennedy made support for marriage equality one of the few controversial issues on which she took a specific stand. Hillary, of course, insists she's not there yet -- in public or in her heart of hearts.

    Now that we know New York Gov. David Paterson has selected Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand, it appears that all the time that he took to make the decision did not result in a better gay rights outcome. Gillibrand aligns with Hillary against marriage, though she does back federal civil unions.

    In an interview with the gay-sounding non-gay publication Inside Out Hudson Valley, she elaborated:

    What I’d like to do legislatively, on the federal level—and I think we’ll be able to do this with the new president—is actually make civil unions legal in all 50 states, make it the law of the land. Because what you want to fundamentally do is protect the rights and privileges of committed couples, so that they can have Medicare benefits, visit in the hospitals, have adoption rights.

    All [the] things that we give to married couples, committed gay couples should be eligible for. And then the question of whether you call it a marriage or not, what you label it, that can be left to the states to decide.

    [It’s] so culturally oriented. My mom’s generation, they want their gay friends to have every right and privilege that they should be eligible for as a married couple, but they feel uncomfortable calling it marriage. To them, a marriage is a religious word that they learned from the Catholic Church: It’s a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. So they feel uncomfortable with the word. But they don’t feel uncomfortable with the rights and privileges.

    I think the way you win this issue is you focus on getting the rights and privileges protected throughout the entire country, and then you do the state-by-state advocacy for having the title.

    You can roll your eyes right along with me on why we are deprived a basic human right because the senior generation is "uncomfortable" with us exercising it, but Gillibrand is right that the issue is largely one to be decided at the federal level anyway.

    There are other areas of concern about Gillibrand. She missed the mark on 4 of the 11 issues on which the Human Rights Campaign scored her first term in Congress, scoring an 80 out of 100 (yeah, I don't get the math either).

    She got three checkmarks for ENDA -- voting twice for the compromise version and co-sponsoring the trans-inclusive version -- another two for the hate crimes bill, one for backing needle exchange in the District of Columbia and one for an obscure vote against an amendment to the Head Start program.

    But Gillibrand failed to sign on as a sponsor for four important measures:

    1. Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (146 Democrats sponsoring)
    2. Uniting American Families Act: equal immigration rights (118 Democrats sponsoring)
    3. Equal tax treatment for D.P. benefits (116 Democrats sponsoring)
    4. Medicaid funding people with HIV (140 Democrats sponsoring)

    Hillary had been a co-sponsor of the Senate versions of those last two, and committed to supporting UAFA and repealing DADT though she had not signed on to sponsor.

    Perhaps Gillibrand just needed more than her first two years in office to warm up to UAFA and DADT, and perhaps she'll be more ready to sign on now that she represents the whole state and not just upstate New York. Either way, her support for federal civil unions makes the glass at least half full, and is an excellent place to start.

    UPDATE #1:

    It appears Governor Paterson may have insisted on a commitment on marriage equality from Gillibrand before giving her the nod. So says the Empire State Pride Agenda:

    Last night likely Senate pick Kirsten Gillibrand spoke to Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle about issues important to New York's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

    "After talking to Kirsten Gillibrand, I am very happy to say that New York is poised to have its first U.S. Senator who supports marriage equality for same-sex couples," said Van Capelle. "She also supports the full repeal of the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) law, repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) and passage of legislation outlawing discrimination against transgender people. While we had a productive discussion about a whole range of LGBT concerns, I was particularly happy to hear where she stands on these issues."

    None of this explains why she fell so short of the mark before now, but it's still great news. We'll have to see whether the "whole range of LGBT concerns" included equal immigration rights, equal taxes on D.P. benefits, and early treatment of HIV.

    UPDATE #2:

    HRC has also chimed in with its own "clarification" of Gillibrand's gay rights views, claiming she supported repeal of DOMA and DADT, even if she didn't co-sponsor, begging the questions: (1) why didn't she co-sponsor? and (2) why doesn't HRC release this kind of information more generally? The reason for both, no doubt, is that members from moderate and conservative districts often will promise only quiet support, wanting to avoid controversy until such time as an actual vote occurs (if ever).

    However understandable politically, it hardly engenders much confidence in a politician like Gillibrand's courage under fire. And to claim she supported marriage equality runs directly contrary to what she herself said publicly.

    Here's the HRC "clarification":

    "There has been some discussion about the record of Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Governor David Paterson’s pick to replace Hillary Clinton, regarding her stance on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and additional LGBT issues. In particular, we’d like to clarify references to the Human Rights Campaign Scorecard for the 110th Congress. Although Kirsten Gillibrand did not co-sponsor legislation to repeal DADT, non-cosponsorship does not mean support for the policy or opposition to repeal. In fact, in conversations with her office the Human Rights Campaign has confirmed Gillibrand is in favor of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and supports full marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples."

    Additionally, HRC confirmed with Gillibran’s staff additional points regarding her LGBT record:

    • Supports marriage equality
    • Co-sponsored and voted in favor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act
    • Co-sponsored inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and supports enactment of inclusive bill
    • Voted in favor of ENDA
    • Supports repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
    • Supports repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act
    • Supports equal tax treatment of employer provided domestic partnership benefits
    • Voted against allowing discrimination in hiring for the Head Start program
    • Voted in favor of allowing Washington, DC to fund needle exchange programs with local funds
    • Voted against procedural attempts to derail ENDA and hate crimes
    • Endorsed by HRC PAC in 2008
    • Supports the Early Treatment of HIV/AIDS Act (ETHA) to allow states to provide Medicaid coverage for HIV-positive persons

    (Photo of Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton circa 2006 via New York Times)



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    1. Lucrece on Jan 23, 2009 9:40:05 AM:

      In a state so close to marriage equality, it disappoints me immensely to know that progress might be set back by the pussy-footing of a senator that has to make nice with her Roman Catholic constituencies.

      She's no advocate of gay rights, that's for sure. Don't expect any initiative.

    1. Pender on Jan 23, 2009 10:27:53 AM:

      What does needle exchange have to do with gay rights?

    1. Lucrece on Jan 23, 2009 11:14:37 AM:

      Didn't you hear? Anything remotely related with AIDS has got to have gay undertones.

    1. Eva Young on Jan 23, 2009 7:51:08 PM:

      The New York Times confirmed with a Gillibrand campaign person her support for marriage equality. There are other Senators who HRC supports big time - Amy Klobuchar for one - who has issues with repealing DADT.

      Klobuchar needs to be confronted on the issue at Gay Pride - or at the HRC dinner.

    1. Slacker Chic on Jan 25, 2009 1:39:13 PM:

      I don't even want to get started on this issue because honestly I could go on all day long about the hypocrisy of religious zealots and seperation of church and state and all of that noise. So I'll just say that for me and my husband, marriage wasn't a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. It was two people who love each other vowing to spend their lives together. And that, to me, is the only definition of marriage.
      And to speak lacking all articulation and coothe, if someone tried to tell my ass who I couldn't marry, I would smack a bitch and tell them to mind their own effing business. All else aside, the fact that anyone being denied a basic human right in what is supposed to be the free world is just disgusting. I mean, what is this? 1918? Sadly, the majority of society will never, ever learn from it's mistakes and past.
      Oh, and btw, by definition then, marriage between pervy old men and young girls (ala Anna Nicole) is totally kosher and holy? After all, they meet the requirements of penis and vagina, so it's all good then?

    1. Chuck on Jan 25, 2009 3:23:43 PM:

      Slacker Chic, you say marriage between pervy old men and young girls like it is a bad thing? lol

      Joking aside, however, that is another no-no I have never figured out...the hang-up Americans have with not only sex, but age differences. Just because someone grows old (and we all do eventually), does not mean that we lose our ability to love and the desire to care for and provide for another human being, regardless of their age.

      When Rita Mae Brown stated that no government has the right to tell its citizens whom to love. The only queer people are those who don't love anybody, I am certain that she also had in mind those who are involved in multi- generational relationships as well.

      I myself am a "pervy" old man of 72 (I like to think of myself as frisky) who is involved with a man half my age in the Philippines for some six years now. It is not uncommon there to see men of my age with Filipinas young enough to be their grandaughters and no one there thinks a thing about it.

      In fact, age is looked up to and respected in Asian countries, unlike America where we practice "granny-dumping", the ignoring of our elders and treat them like they are worn-out, disposable garbage to be put out with the trash.

      Becoming involved with a Filipino gave me not only a new chance at a loving relationship (I lost my partner to AIDS many years ago, but a new family of parents, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles that I have long lost in my own native land.

      If you, as a gay person, would deny us "pervs", as you put it, another chance at love and happiness, than you are just as lacking in your understanding of love and the desire for the milk of hman kindness as the penis + vagina crowd.

      Food for thought.

    1. Scott Noren DDS on Oct 2, 2009 1:25:09 AM:

      I find it very "interesting" that your group has never even bothered to contact people like me that are running for US Senate....it shows how Un-Democratic this whole process is. Sitting down and talking about the pros and cons of each issue would be helpful. Ever heard of the FEC? It's called the Federal Election Commission and it lists who is running in each election...or, you can just go along with a Governor appointee, endorsed by the party, not the people and get another smiling lawyer who takes Lobby money from Insurance and everyone who offers it up. Good luck. I may not agree on everything your group wants but I am not a career politician either and won't bend to anyone because of money or political pressure.
      Scott Noren DDS
      [email protected]

    1. Scott Noren DDS on Oct 2, 2009 1:32:38 AM:

      BTW, being IN office and 'supporting' things without actually PERSONALLY authoring meaningful bills is worthless. Having someone else (intern and/or lobbyist) write a bill and then taking claim for it is the usual way in DC.

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