Ocean State gays have chance to weigh in on relevant issues

Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D) met with members of the Rhode Island GLBT community at Blaze restaurant in Providence on November 28 to discuss, as billed by his office, issues.

A broad topic, to be sure, but for Whitehouse and the small crowd that met with him, conversation led to a discussion of the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) and a possible repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" ban against gay men and women serving openly in the U.S. military.

On the record, Whitehouse (come on, would someone with that surname be anything but a politician) is in favor of ENDA and would like to see the military let gay men and lesbians serve and be open about their sexual orientation. But he, like many in the Ocean State GLBT community, know that getting both to come to pass might very well be an uphill and lengthy battle.

Without 60 votes, Whitehouse explained, a piece of legislation like ENDA can be defeated by the minority party, who can filibuster by adding to it amendments, thereby locking the legislation in committee after committee after committee and making it, in effect, moot.

As for DADT, Whitehouse said that policy, if it's going to ever be reversed, won't happen until a new president takes office in 2009.

And that president, or so Whitehouse hopes, will be Hillary Clinton.

"[Clinton] is as solid as she appears," said Whitehouse, noting the next President would be overwhelmed by dealing with the problems left behind by George W. Bush. "Bush has done so much that is evil and wrong in this country."

Whitehouse was elected to the United States Senate in November 2006, defeating former Senator Lincoln Chafee (R). Whitehouse's campaign garnered tremendous support for his views on gay civil rights issues.

During his first year in the Senate, Whitehouse has built a strong record of support for civil rights protections for the GLBT community. A member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he is a cosponsor of legislation strengthening the federal hate crimes statute to give local law enforcement tools to combat crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Whitehouse voted to include the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) in a defense bill now being considered by a joint House-Senate conference committee.

Whitehouse has also cosponsored the Tax Equity for Domestic Partners and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act (S. 1556), which would extend the income tax exclusion for health benefits, now available only to spouses, to cover domestic partners as well; and the Uniting American Families Act (S. 1328), which would amend immigration law to give permanent same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual citizens to sponsor their spouses to become legal permanent residents in the United States.

Whitehouse has long supported legal recognition for same-sex marriage, and is committed to opposing legislation to amend the Constitution to it.

Jenn Steinfeld of Marriage Equality Rhode Island (MERI), who was at the discussion on Wednesday, called Whitehouse a "tireless advocate" for GLBT equality.

Said Whitehouse in a 2006 RI Senate debate: "You can look back to the civil war to see constitutional problems like [amendments that single out gays and lesbians]. There was a time when in the U.S. Constitution, black slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a human. It is absolutely wrong for us to use the Constitution to divide Americans. The Constitution, which I revere, gives us as citizens rights against the government. It should never be used by the government to divide us for its own political purposes."

By:  Joe Sigel
Source: IN Newsweekly