Tag Archives: david cicilline

Gay congressman responds to gay marriage vote in his state

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, a gay Democrat, was the only member of the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee to vote for a gay marriage bill in 2001. Now, in 2013, the committee he once served on has unanimously sent a gay marriage bill to the full House for consideration.

The vote could come as early as Jan. 24.

Cicilline has sent a letter to members of the Rhode Island General Assembly encouraging their support.

In a statement, he said, “I applaud the action of the House Judiciary Committee. Following President Obama’s inaugural address that called for gay Americans to be treated equally under the law, I am pleased that the House Judiciary Committee has taken the first step towards enacting full marriage equality in our state.”

He continued, “This important effort has received the support of a growing number of Rhode Islanders from nearly every political background and religious tradition, and I believe it is time our state recognizes the dignity and value of relationships between committed and loving individuals of the same gender by enacting full marriage equality in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island is the only New England state where gay marriage is not legal.

Baldwin takes oath as 113th Congress convenes

Every two years, a new class of U.S. senators assumes the duties of the office. For the first time in U.S. history, the new class includes an openly gay member – Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

Baldwin, after serving in the U.S. House since 1999, took her oath in the Senate on Jan. 3. Meanwhile, in the U.S. House, six out gay members – a record – were sworn into office. Openly gay U.S. Reps. Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island were joined by gay Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Mark Takano of California and bisexual Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The out representatives, all of them Democrats, serve in the minority party – there are 233 Republicans and 200 Democrats in the House. The freshman class of 84 also includes the first Hindu elected to Congress, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, and the first Buddhist, Asian-American woman and Japanese-born citizen, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

Baldwin, assigned to committee seats on health, education, labor and pensions; budget; homeland security and aging, serves in the majority party – there are 53 Democrats, 45 Republicans and two independents in the Senate. The 12-member freshmen class is made up of three Republicans, eight Democrats and one independent.

Baldwin, in addition to being the first openly gay person elected to the Senate, is the first woman elected to the Senate from Wisconsin.

One of the first orders of business in the House was to select its leadership. John Boehner was re-elected House Speaker with 220 votes, only three more than the number required.

And initial House votes included a controversial rules package that authorized the House legal team, known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, to keep paying outside counsel to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Republican lawmakers have spent at least $1.5 million to defend the act, the subject of a Supreme Court challenge this year.

Evan Wolfson, of the Freedom to Marry advocacy group, said, “It’s truly disheartening that, on a day of new beginnings on Capitol Hill, the leadership of the House of Representatives is advancing a measure … to continue spending taxpayer dollars on expensive lawyers to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in court. …It’s past time for the Republican leadership to listen to their constituents, a majority of whom support the freedom to marry and stop wasting precious resources in an effort to treat fellow Americans as second-class citizens.”

On Jan. 4, the new Congress held a joint session to count the electoral votes for the 2012 presidential election, which returned Barack Obama to the White House for another four years.

The 57th presidential inauguration takes place on Jan. 21, the day after a private swearing-in ceremony at the White House. Four former presidents – Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – will serve as honorary co-chairs. The inaugural theme is “Faith in America’s Future.”

“Our nation has faced countless challenges throughout its history, and each time we have come together as Americans and moved forward with renewed strength,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, chair of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. “During the 57th presidential inauguration, Americans from across the country will gather beneath the Capitol Dome to celebrate our history, take measure of how far we have come and look towards our future with hope and determination.”

Civil rights advocates are focusing on a number of measures they want to advance in the 113th Congress, including banning workplace discrimination against LGBT people, repealing the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act and enacting policies to curb anti-LGBT harassment in schools and protect bi-national same-sex couples from deportations.

However, with the partisan divides in the House and Senate – and extended use of the filibuster – civil rights advances over the next two years are more likely to take place within the Obama administration and federal agencies than courtesy of Congress.

A report from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force shows that over the past four years an actively pro-LGBT administration has “reaped more successes in securing equal access to federal programs and benefits for the LGBT community than during any other period in United States history.”

During Obama’s first term substantial change came with administration initiatives on housing, health care, education and justice. NGLTF, in its paper, concluded, “It is undeniable the last four years have been the most successful in advancing LGBT priorities at the federal level.… It is entirely possible, given candidate Romney’s posture in both the primary and general elections, that this progress would have been halted, or possibly reversed, if he had been elected.”

In the 113th Congress

LGBT civil rights advocates will lobby the new Congress for passage of the:

• Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would extend federal employment discrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity and prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor unions from using sexual orientation or gender identity as the basis for employment decisions.

• Family Leave Insurance Act, which would grant essential benefits to working families by providing 12 weeks of paid family medical leave coverage to employees seeking to take leave to care for their families, including leave to care for a domestic partner and children in a same-sex household.

• Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to require federally-funded schools and districts to adopt codes of conduct prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also would require that states report data on bullying and harassment to the U.S. Department of Education and that the department provide data to Congress.

Photo: Cliff Owen/AP

Vice President Joe Biden administers the Senate Oath to Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., during a swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill on Jan. 3, as the 113th Congress officially began.

• The Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act and restore the rights of all lawfully married same-sex couples to receive the benefits of marriage under federal law. The bill also provides same-sex couples with certainty that federal benefits and protections would flow from a valid marriage celebrated in a state where such marriages are legal, even if a couple moved or traveled to another state.

• Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act, which would require colleges and universities receiving federal student aid funding to prohibit harassment and to establish a grant program to support campus anti-harassment programs.

• Uniting American Families Act, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to include same-sex partners as “family” for issues related to immigrant visas and green cards. 

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GOP TV attack ad links gay Rep to child molester, murderer

House Republicans are airing a TV ad in Rhode Island linking openly gay freshman Democratic Rep. David Cicilline to a child molester and a murderer he defended when he was a lawyer two decades ago.

“What do a child molester, a murderer and a violent attacker all have in common? Defense attorney David Cicilline,” the narrator says in the spot sponsored by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

The commercial began running this week and is designed to boost GOP hopeful Brendan Doherty, the former head of the state police who is making his first run for office. It echoes an attack ad Doherty’s own campaign launched last week that shows a photo of Cicilline on-screen alongside the words “rapists, pedophiles and murderers.”

Nationally, Democrats are not expected to win back control of the House in the Nov. 6 elections. But Cicilline’s seat in tiny, liberal-leaning Rhode Island would be a victory for Republicans, who haven’t won a House seat representing the state since 1992. The GOP sees this year as their best shot since then, and both national parties have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV ads in the final week of the race.

The NRCC ad is “one of the harshest ads I’ve ever seen in Rhode Island politics,” said former Democratic congressman Bob Weygand.

He said defense attorneys don’t necessarily like their clients, but their job is to defend them, and that shouldn’t reflect on them personally.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee called the ad “the worst kind of gutter politics” and Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers said voters deserve a debate on the issues.

The Cicilline campaign put out an ad on Oct. 31 focusing on the Republican ads and saying Doherty “doesn’t want to talk about his agenda.”

Asked about the fairness of an ad attacking an attorney for defending those charged with crimes, NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin criticized Cicilline for choosing to “fight for violent criminals” over victims.

“David Cicilline chose to represent convicted child molesters and murders. He chose to make a career out of doing that,” Sillin said.

Record number of gays run for Congress

Of the four openly gay members of Congress, the two longest-serving stalwarts are vacating their seats. Instead of fretting, their activist admirers are excited about a record number of gays vying to win seats in the next Congress – and to make history in the process.

When the oaths of office are taken in January, Congress could have its first openly gay Asian-American, Mark Takano of California; its first openly bisexual member, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona; and its first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

In all, eight openly gay candidates are running as major-party nominees for the House of Representatives, the most ever, including the two incumbents who are favored in their races – Democrats Jared Polis of Colorado and David Cicilline of Rhode Island. There’s one gay Republican in the group, Richard Tisei, who is waging a competitive campaign for a House seat from Massachusetts.

A common denominator in all the races: Neither the gay candidates nor their rivals are stressing sexual orientation, and the oft-heard refrain is, “It’s not an issue.” If anti-gay innuendo does surface from lower echelons of a campaign, there are disavowals – even conservative candidates these days think twice about being depicted as biased against gays and lesbians.

“People know that bigotry is bad politics,” said Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton who is trying to oust one-term Republican Nan Hayworth from New York’s 18th District in the Hudson Valley.

Maloney, who’d be the first openly gay member of Congress from New York, has assailed Hayworth for not supporting federal recognition of same-sex marriage, but says voters are focused on economic and health care issues, not on gay rights.

“The voters in my district care more about why my opponent wants to end Medicare and defund Planned Parenthood than about who I love,” said Maloney, who is raising three children with his partner of 20 years.

The veterans departing from the House are Barney Frank, D-Mass., perhaps the most powerful gay in elective office who is retiring after 16 terms, and Baldwin, who is vacating her House seat after seven terms to run for the Senate. Recent polls show her running slightly ahead of her GOP opponent, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson.

Thompson has not made an issue of Baldwin’s sexual orientation, and said it was “a mistake” for an aide to have sent emails with a link to a video of Baldwin dancing at a 2010 gay Pride festival.

Chuck Wolfe of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which recruits and supports gay political candidates, said Thompson’s response epitomized the changed atmosphere in which Republicans are less inclined to use sexual orientation as a wedge issue and anti-gay attacks are becoming taboo.

“We still have them happen in local races, but in the federal races we hope we’ll get through them without seeing these kind of attacks,” Wolfe said.

Baldwin’s decision to run for the Senate prompted another openly gay Democrat, state legislator Mark Pocan, to enter the race to fill her seat from the 2nd District based in Madison, the liberal home to the University of Wisconsin. Pocan won a four-way Democratic primary in August and is a heavy favorite to win on Nov. 6.

In Arizona, Sinema and Republican Vernon Parker are squaring off in a newly reconfigured district in the Phoenix area that both parties view as winnable.

Sinema, 36, has been a staunch gay-rights advocate during eight years in the Legislature and is at ease acknowledging her bisexuality. But she responded sharply during her primary campaign after being told that her Democratic rival had suggested that a bisexual couldn’t win the general election.

“It’s true that I’m openly bisexual,” she told the Washington Blade. “I have been my entire adult life, and I’ve managed to win four elections, and, meanwhile, he’s lost two, so perhaps it was being straight that was the problem here.”

Like Sinema, Mark Takano is considered a strong candidate in a newly redrawn and competitive district – the 41st District that includes Riverside, Calif. The GOP nominee, John Tavaglione, hasn’t made an issue of Takano’s sexuality

Takano, a 51-year-old high school teacher, ran losing races for Congress in 1992 and again in 1994, when he was routed by a GOP rival who sent anti-Takano mailers in shades of pink after Takano’s sexual orientation became an issue.

“That became front-page news,” Takano said. “Today, it’s just an interesting part of my background as opposed to being a sensational story… People look back at what happened 18 years ago and say, ‘I can’t believe we ever did those things.’”

In Massachusetts, Tisei, a longtime state legislator, is running a vigorous campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. John Tierney. The National Republican Congressional Committee has included Tisei in its “Young Gun” program highlighting promising candidates.

There have been openly gay Republicans in Congress before – but they came out after being elected. Tisei would be the first Republican to enter Congress as an openly gay candidate.

Tisei is at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy on key social issues. He supports the Massachusetts law legalizing same-sex marriage and favors abortion rights. But he depicts himself as a fiscal conservative, and says the GOP’s stance on social issues will moderate faster if people like himself work from inside.

“I’ve been very welcomed and encouraged by the national party leaders,” he said in a telephone interview earlier this year. “As for issues of equality, you’ll never have true equality until you have advocates on both sides of the aisle.”

The other House races involving openly gay candidates:

– In Colorado, Polis is an overwhelmingly favorite to win re-election in the 2nd District that includes his liberal hometown of Boulder. He and his partner are raising a young son, which makes Polis the only gay member of Congress who’s a parent.

– In Rhode Island, Cicilline, a former mayor of Providence, is seeking a second term in the House but faces a tough challenge from Republican Brendan Doherty, a former head of the state police. During the Democratic primary campaign, there were brief flare-ups over complaints that supporters of Cicilline’s rival, Anthony Gemma, were engaging in anti-gay innuendo.

– In Idaho, Democratic state Sen. Nicole Lefavour – the first openly gay legislator ever in her state – is running against incumbent Republican Mike Simpson in the 2nd District. Of all the openly gay congressional candidates this year, she probably faces the longest odds, given that Simpson won re-election in 2010 with 69 percent of the vote.

In New York, the race between Maloney and Hayworth is distinctive in part because Hayworth has an openly gay son and is one of only three Republicans in the congressional gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender caucus.

Have political dynamics evolved so thoroughly that being openly gay might now be an asset in the race?

“I don’t know I’d go that far,” Maloney said. “But there is a real power in being yourself. When you’re not afraid, when you live your life with honesty and integrity, it makes you a better parent, a better colleague, a better friend and a better candidate.”

On the Web…

The Victory Fund: http://www.victoryfund.org/home 

Democratic_state_Sen._Nicole_Lefavour

New year brings old expectations

The new year arrived in the U.S. capital colored with expectations, forecasts, promises and threats similar to 1994, when Bill Clinton was in the White House and Newt Gingrich held the gavel in the House of Representatives.

The 112th Congress was installed Jan. 5 with lofty speeches about bipartisanship and unity, but with familiar ideological clashes and fighting partisan words in both chambers.

In the midterm election, the GOP gained in the U.S. Senate, where Democrats still hold a majority, and seized the majority in the U.S. House. The new order’s first orders of business include rule changes, funding cuts and a push to repeal the healthcare reform measure passed by the last Congress.

On the Hill

Going into 2011 with enthusiasm and optimism, Log Cabin Republicans, the national gay GOP group that in 2010 waged a successful legal challenge to the gay military ban, offered congratulations to new House Speaker John Boehner and pledged to work with incumbents and rookies on the central issues facing the nation.

“It is time to get to work on … rehabilitating the economy through job creation, tax reform and restraining government spending,” said LCR executive director Christian Berle.

On the other side of the LGBT political spectrum, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force cautioned that hostile forces have taken hold in Congress and state legislatures.

“Extremist groups like the Tea Party, the National Organization for Marriage and Focus on the Family have made homophobia their loudest battle cry – and they’re using fear and ignorance to raise millions of dollars to trample our rights,” said NGLTF executive director Rea Carey.

Michael Keegan of the liberal People for the American Way warned that “the most radically right-wing Congress in at least a generation” has convened with “an agenda chock full of special favors for corporate interests and the religious right at the expense of ordinary Americans and our fundamental rights.”

PFAW, in preparation for a new era on Capitol Hill, issued reports on the 10 “scariest Republicans heading to Congress” and “Meet the Leadership: Corporate America and the Religious Right’s New Team in the House.” PFAW’s scary 10 House members are Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, Tim Walberg of Michigan, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Allen West and Sandy Adams of Florida, Alan Nunnelee of Mississippi and Raul Labrador of Idaho.

PFAW, in its report, stated that this class “provides an extreme far-right backbone for the GOP’s agenda – many newly-elected members based their campaigns on propagating anti-government extremism, appealing to bizarre and debunked conspiracy theories, denigrating gays, immigrants and Muslims and pledging to repeal multiple amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

An analysis from the Human Rights Campaign found that in the midterm election, the number of “anti-LGBT” lawmakers increased by 53 in the House and five in the Senate. “Not only do those opposing basic equality hold positions of power as House leaders and committee chairmen, their ranks have swollen to 225 – a solid majority of the chamber,” the HRC analysis read. “This presents not just a roadblock to progress but also the threat of legislation that could be damaging to the community.”

At the nation’s largest LGBT organization, HRC staff rang out 2010 with a celebration of victories, specifically the late-hour votes to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the prohibition against gays serving openly in the Armed Forces.

But HRC president Joe Solmonese said the new year will bring big – if familiar – challenges. “The obstacles to equality will only grow” in the next year,” he said.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a watchdog group formed to dismantle DADT, is organizing to devote the next year to working with the Defense Department on implementing DADT’s repeal and assisting servicemembers through the process.

SLDN executive director Aubrey Sarvis also predicted some “congressional oversight and mischief” from lawmakers who sought to block repeal in 2010.

Beyond the beltway

The most significant wins in 2011 likely will come from pending legal challenges to anti-gay marriage measures – the federal Proposition 8 fight in California that could overturn the constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, and the federal case in Massachusetts that could overturn portions of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which withholds government benefits from legally married same-sex couples.

In legislative spheres, LGBT civil rights advocates predict that New York lawmakers will advance a marriage equality bill in 2011, while New Hampshire lawmakers likely will attempt to repeal the state’s gay marriage legislation.

New Hampshire, with a Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, legalized marriage for same-sex couples in 2009. The first gay couples married in the state last January.

Now, with an influx of Republicans in both chambers, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage are investing in a campaign to repeal the marriage law. Activists say the votes exist to pass a bill to strike gay marriage in the Granite State, but there may not be enough votes to overcome Gov. John Lynch’s promised veto.

Also in 2011, state legislatures will take up anti-discrimination bills, including one in Florida and another in Georgia, and anti-bullying measures, including a reform bill in California.

Gay candidates for Congress draw interest, hope

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (AP) — Laure Rondeau, an 82-year-old Catholic, supports Providence Mayor David Cicilline for Congress because he wants to get the troops out of Afghanistan and says Washington is losing sight of what’s happening to regular people.

The sexual orientation of the openly gay mayor doesn’t figure into her decision.

“That doesn’t bother me at all,” Rondeau says. “He’s been a good mayor of Providence, and I think he’d do well in Congress.”

Just three of the 535 members of Congress are openly gay, but two candidates hope to inch that number up to five this year: Cicilline, who is running to succeed fellow Democrat Patrick Kennedy, and Democrat Steve Pougnet, who’s trying to knock Republican Mary Bono Mack out of her seat in California.

The races have drawn intense interest from gay advocacy groups, which are excited about two candidates who could help push for legislation to institute hate crime protections, prevent discrimination and advocate for same-sex marriage rights.

“There are so few people on the Hill who can speak authentically about what these things mean in their own lives,” said Denis Dison, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that works to elect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender politicians. “We are vastly underrepresented.”

Sexual orientation and gay marriage are not the flashpoints in this midterm election that they have been in the past. There are no statewide ballot measures on gay marriage this November, and polls have shown a growing acceptance of same-sex unions. Five states now allow gay marriage, including Rhode Island’s neighbors Massachusetts and Connecticut.

That has bolstered the hopes of advocates, who would like to see the number of openly gay members of Congress increase.

The Victory Fund and the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay rights group, has poured money into both races. The California seat has also been targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program as one of the seats it sees as having the best chances of moving from Republican to Democrat, although analysts say it could still be tough in what’s expected to be a Republican year.

The three openly gay members are all in the House: Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Jared Polis of Colorado. Polis said gay candidates must show they’re looking out for everybody, the way Barack Obama did when he ran for president.

“He didn’t win by being known as the black candidate. He won by being known as the candidate for all Americans,” Polis said.

In Rhode Island, Cicilline is the best known and best-funded candidate in Tuesday’s four-way Democratic primary, having raised more than $1.3 million, about three times the amount of his nearest Democratic rival and of the leading Republican.

He had about $450,000 in his account as of August, according to federal filings, after going on a TV ad spending spree with commercials on seniors and jobs — an important issue in Rhode Island, which had the fourth-worst unemployment rate in the country in July at 11.9 percent. The expected Republican candidate, state Rep. John Loughlin, had just $67,000 in his campaign account. There have been no reliable polls in the race.

Kennedy has for eight terms represented the 1st District, which stretches from blue-collar communities around Providence in the north to the blue-blooded seaside mansions of Newport in the south. Cicilline’s sexual orientation has not been an issue in the race so far, and voters don’t seem to care. Cicilline, who is single, has been attacked by his opponents, but for his record as mayor, not his personal life.

“People are really focused on the issues that are important in their own lives, and what they think the individuals running for Congress can do to respond to the urgent challenges that their families are facing,” Cicilline said in an interview. “I think the sexual orientation of candidates in this race, including mine, have been irrelevant to voters, and I think that’s progress.”

Both Cicilline and Pougnet support legalizing same-sex marriage, which in past election cycles has been a divisive issue but has been less so this year, when there are no ballot initiatives on the issue.

Pougnet married his longtime partner in 2008, after same-sex marriage was legalized in California but before it was banned by the ballot initiative Proposition 8.

Since 2007, he’s been mayor of Palm Springs, which has a large gay population, and he’s mounting the most serious challenge yet to Bono Mack, who has for 12 years represented the 45th District in California’s Inland Empire, a huge district that stretches from the Arizona border nearly to Los Angeles.

Pougnet had raised more than $1.2 million as of the end of June to Bono Mack’s $1.7 million. That makes Pougnet her best-funded challenger ever. He launched his first TV ad last week in which he says Bono Mack “isn’t getting the job done” on bread-and-butter issues such as jobs and foreclosures.

Bono Mack has rankled members of the gay community for not opposing Proposition 8 and for voting against the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military. Her campaign manager Ryan Mahoney says she supports leaving gay marriage up to the states and touts the support of groups such as the Log Cabin Republicans.

Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in California, said the district has become more Democratic in recent years and Obama carried it in 2008, but otherwise vulnerable Republicans like Bono Mack may be OK in a year expected to be a good one for Republicans.

But Pougnet calls it a “winnable race” and says he’s working hard to meet voters, sometimes bringing his family — he and his husband have 4-year-old twins — to campaign events. He said his sexual orientation isn’t as important to voters as the economy, foreclosures and health care — although he’s had a lot of support from people around the country excited about the possibility of electing the first openly gay parent to Congress.

“Folks vilify gay couples with children, that somehow we’re different and of course, we’re not,” he said. “When folks watch us climbing the Capitol steps ready to be sworn in, America will see a family.”