By Chris Johnson
As Democrats celebrated Massachusetts Rep. Ed Markey's win on Tuesday in the special election for an open U.S. Senate seat, a gay candidate is already working to build support for a bid to replace Markey in the House.
In an interview with the Washington Blade, Massachusetts State Rep. Carl Sciortino, 34, touted his progressive values as he talked about seeking to represent Massachusetts' 5th congressional district in the U.S. House. A victory would make him the eighth sitting openly gay member of Congress.
"I have a strong progressive track record in the state legislature, where I served for nine years," Sciortino said. "And I think there are many issues facing our country that will affect us for many years, and I want to bring a solid, progressive voice to the debate."
At the top of the list for Sciortino -- who launched his campaign in February -- are climate change, Social Security, immigration as well as campaign finance reform in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, which he said is "blocking a healthy democracy."
"There are many things on the table that we are struggling with as a country right now, and I think at a core level, we're really talking about whether the American Dream is available for another generation," Sciortino said.
The lawmaker said he'd also advance his record on LGBT issues in Congress, which he said he sees as "core economic and fairness issues for families who happen to be LGBT." He's credited with helping beat back a constitutional amendment opposing marriage equality in Massachusetts and was lead sponsor of the state's m0re recently signed transgender civil rights law.
"At a very base level, of course, we have to get an inclusive-ENDA passed," Sciortino said. "Employment protections are crucial, and the fact that as a country we still can have a qualified worker fired for no other reason than they are gay or transgender is totally unacceptable."
Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, spoke highly of Sciortino and his efforts to combat a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would have rescinded marriage equality in the state after it was put in place by the State Supreme Court. At the time, Solomon was the head of MassEquality.
"Carl is one, I'd say, of a handful of elected officials for whom I would do pretty much anything -- and I'm not exaggerating," Solomon said. "And it's because he's committed, he's passionate, he's smart and he knows how to get things done. He has the great combination of having really strong progressive convictions while at the same time knowing how to build alliances with others to get laws passed."
In October, Solomon is set to officiate over the congressional hopeful's wedding to his partner of more than five years, Pem Brown, a 29-year-old consultant for non-profit communications. The ceremony will take place in Boston at the Old South Meeting House, where the LGBT community gathered in 2003 to celebrate on the night of the Goodridge decision that brought marriage equality.
Throughout the campaign, Sciortino said his plans to marry someone of the same gender haven't been an issue for voters.
"I think it's significant that an openly gay candidate running for Congress can be planning my wedding while running for office and, frankly, no one really cares in a big way that we're getting married," he said.
Sciortino's candidacy was dependent on a Democratic win in the Senate race on Tuesday between Rep. Markey (D-Mass.), and Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL. Now that Markey has won the Senate seat, his congressional seat is vacated, giving Sciortino the opportunity to run.
Another special election at a yet-to-be-determined date will be held to see who will represent Massachusetts' 5th congressional district in Congress. It's already a crowded field: others who've announced their candidacy include State Sen. Karen Spilka, State Sen. William Brownsberger, State Sen. Katherine Clark and Middlesex Sheriff Pete Koutoujian.
Nathan Gonzalez, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, said it's too early to handicap the race, but noted even at this early stage that Sciortino will face a crowded field.
"From what I know, I'm expecting him to be a serious and credible candidate, but I don't think he will be the only one that those adjectives fit," Gonzalez said.
This week, Sciortino is making a trip to D.C. to get himself better acquainted with lawmakers as well as activist organizations working on progressive and LGBT work. He didn't immediately recall which stakeholders he'll meet once he arrives in Washington.
"I will be walking in as a freshman member of Congress in the middle of a term and this is an opportunity to make the rounds, build support for the campaign and build relationships," Sciortino said.
One event he will attend is a fundraiser that will take place in the home of gay Democratic lobbyist and activist Robert Raben. Gay Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) is expected to attend.
Sciortino said he sees former Rep. Barney Frank as a role model in terms of both his service to Massachusetts and to the LGBT community.
"He was fighting for LGBT equality even as a closeted member of the state legislature in the '70s and deserves, I think, our collective appreciation," Sciortino said. "And I can only hope to be as witty and sharp as he's always been, so he's a good role model in that way as well."
In addition to legislative work, Sciortino is pushing for more action from the Obama administration. He praised Obama for his LGBT accomplishments -- and put passage of hate crimes protections legislation at the top of his list -- but joined in the call for an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from engaging in LGBT workplace discrimination.
"He deserves our appreciation, but, that being said, we have to hold his feet to the fire and keep pushing for it as a community until we have full equality -- and a ban on discrimination for federal contractors has to be part of that strategy because when companies can continue to discriminate against our families and our community, it sends a message that it's OK," Sciortino said.
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, was among those who spoke highly of the candidate, whom his organization has endorsed.
"Carl has been a proven leader on LGBT issues in the Massachusetts Legislature," Wolfe said. "He'll continue that outspoken advocacy in Congress, where we need more authentic LGBT voices speaking truth to power."