The following commentary by Providence, R.I., Mayor David Cicilline was originally posted at The Bilerico Project.
Numbers don’t lie.
Right now, there are only three openly gay members in the U.S. House of Representatives. That means that out of the 435 seats in the House, less than 1% are held by openly gay men or women.
As the first openly gay mayor of a U.S. state capital, I know all too well how hard each of us has to fight every day for our voices to be heard.
But with such a limited influence in Congress, it’s easy for those voices to be drowned out. Remember, it was only four years ago that conservative Washington Republicans tried to amend the Constitution to ban marriage equality with the full support of the sitting President.
But we’ve made progress as a community since that time and, on November 2nd, we have a chance to make our voices heard a little clearer if I win my campaign to succeed Congressman Patrick Kennedy in Rhode Island’s First Congressional District.
Right now, there are several initiatives before Congress that would promote equality for the LGBT community but have not yet been enacted. A greater level of LGBT representation in the 112th Congress would make it easier to pass the types of laws that will ensure a level playing field for members of our community.
For example, the Respect for Marriage Act will repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, which had defined marriage as being between a man and a woman and was recently overturned as unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge. The new law will ensure that federal benefits continue for same-sex couples even if they move to a state that has not yet recognized marriage equality.
In addition, the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act will provide the same benefits to gay and lesbian partners of federal civilian employees as are already provided to employees with opposite-sex spouses. In Congress, I will work with my colleagues to pass these bills into law and ensure that members of our community are able to achieve full marriage equality.
Congress must also act to ensure that LGBT Americans are protected from employment discrimination. Remarkably, there is no federal law that does this right now. Workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation remains legal in 29 states and 38 states do not protect against discrimination based on gender identity or expression.
In Congress, I will advocate vigorously for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to ban workplace discrimination in America and ensure that no one can ever be fired because of their sexual orientation. ENDA will extend federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity to guarantee that gay Americans have a fair chance at professional success.
Lastly, we have to do everything we can to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” DADT was a bad policy when it was enacted and it’s a bad policy today. It has hurt far too many honorable veterans who wanted to serve their country. We should be honoring the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, not casting them aside because of an unfair, prejudicial policy. A federal judge recently struck down DADT as unconstitutional, but since the ruling is under appeal, I believe we must continue the work to reverse this policy through legislation. In Congress, I will vigorously advocate for the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to replace the current policy and guarantee that gay Americans can openly serve their country.
The struggle for full equality is never easy. Our community has struggled for years both against prejudice and political opportunists who saw our basic freedoms as nothing more than “wedge issues” to divide voters. We’ve come a long way in just the past few years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. If I am fortunate enough to succeed Patrick Kennedy in Congress, I will fight hard every single day to ensure full equality for the men and women of the LGBT community.
Yes, the list is long and many might see the arduous task ahead as impossible. But this is America – we have met the challenge of every generation and we will solve these problems as well. It won’t be easy. But in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
I’m excited about the challenges ahead and beginning the work that must be done. I hope you will take some time to learn more about my campaign for Congress – you can visit http://www.cicilline.com or click here to make a small contribution and help me fight for our cause in Congress.