Ending discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community remains one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.
As an openly gay man, I have a deep understanding of the importance of achieving equality for all citizens. Throughout my career in public service, I have consistently stood up for equal rights. In the Rhode Island General Assembly, I sponsored or co-sponsored legislation to support marriage equality, to provide AIDS education in public schools, to include sexual orientation in hate crimes protection, to establish a needle exchange program, and to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and employment. I have consistently and vocally opposed the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, and advocated for full marriage equality.
I will continue to work hard in Congress to ensure full LGBT equality in marriage, in the workplace, in schools, and in communities.
I believe that every American should enjoy the same freedoms and protections under the law. In Congress, I will support and work for passage of the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act to provide the same benefits to gay and lesbian partners of federal civilian employees as are already provided to employees with opposite-sex spouses.
Further, I will support and work for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, to guarantee the rights of all lawfully married couples, including same-sex couples, to receive the more than 1,100 federal benefits and protections of marriage under federal law. This bill will replace the Defense of Marriage Act which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, and which was recently overturned as unconstitutional by a U.S. District Court judge. In addition, the Respect for Marriage Act will guarantee that federal benefits continue for same-sex couples even if they move to a state that has not yet recognized marriage equality.
Discrimination in the Workplace
Right now, there is no federal law that consistently protects LGBT individuals from employment discrimination. 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 fight hard for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to ban workplace discrimination in America.
ENDA is closely modeled on existing civil rights laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will explicitly prohibit preferential treatment and quotas. ENDA will also extend federal employment discrimination protections currently provided based on race, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
I will continue to advocate for the full and immediate repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." According to a 2010 Washington Post/ABC News poll, 75% of Americans believe openly lesbian and gay citizens should be able to serve in the United States Armed Forces. As a longtime opponent of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I support the Military Readiness Enhancement Act to replace the current military policy with a law preventing discrimination. On May 27, the House of Representatives voted 234 to 194 to repeal military discrimination (once the Pentagon Working Group study is complete by 12/1/2010, and the President and Joint Chiefs sign on), as an amendment offered by Rep. Murphy to HR 5136, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal year 2011.
Despite extraordinary advances in medical research, as many as 56,000 people are infected with HIV/AIDS each year. During my career in public service, I have consistently stood up to demand a greater focus on fighting this terrible disease. In Congress, I will lead the fight to fully fund the Ryan White CARE Act to provide life-saving treatment and care for those living with HIV/AIDS. I will also support and push for passage adequate funding at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for HIV/AIDS prevention and medical research so that the United States remains at the forefront of efforts to develop treatments, and one day a cure, for this disease.
In Congress, I will work to uphold the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), which was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009. The HCPA gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence by providing the DOJ with jurisdiction over crimes of violence where a perpetrator has selected a victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
I will also work to provide protection from bullying in schools, by supporting and working for passage of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA). The SSIA would amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (part of the No Child Left Behind Act) to require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.