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Mark Pocan, Tammy Baldwin discuss push for gay rights

Apr 22, 2013
In The News

Two of Madison’s elected officials are getting some love from the Washington Blade, a gay magazine in Washington, D.C.

In recent interviews with the magazine, both U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin express optimism about Congress advancing LGBT rights in the near future. Baldwin, the first openly gay U.S. senator, and Pocan, also openly gay, suggest it’s only a matter of time before the dramatic movement in public opinion in favor of LGBT rights translates into major policy changes, including marriage equality.

Pocan told the Blade he is working on a bill to extend spousal benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. His husband, Phil Frank, whom he married in Canada six years ago, is not currently eligible for the same health care and pension benefits to which an opposite-sex spouse of a member of Congress is entitled.

President Obama, via executive order, has extended a certain number of domestic partner benefits to federal workers. However, the most substantial benefits, such as health insurance, require congressional approval.

Pocan notes that the GOP-controlled House may not even have to vote on the measure if the Supreme Court rules that the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, is unconstitutional.

He also says he is looking into the issue of homelessness among LGBT youth.

Pocan, who has always had a reputation as a skilled deal-maker, also talks to the Blade about friends he has made with Republicans. He has even told Ohio Republican Jim Jordan that he would help him get an invitation to appear on Madison conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna’s program. “I said 'I can get you on there, she hates me,'” said Pocan.

Baldwin is more optimistic about some LGBT rights initiatives than others. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would forbid employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexuality, will likely pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, she says. But its chances of passing the GOP-controlled House are slim.

She has higher hopes for anti-bullying legislation. It thinks adding protections for LGBT youth in a larger education bill might be the best way to get them through both chambers of Congress. Similar language about LGBT discrimination was included and passed as part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) earlier this year, she notes.

“I would say the parallel between VAWA and the (education bill) is if we can make these very important provisions a part of a bill that gains some momentum, and that the Republicans in the House see as must-pass legislation, our prospects are brighter,” Baldwin said.