Friday, June 13, 2008

We Have to Start Somewhere

The Religious Action Center for Reform Judiasm covered Wednesday's panel discussion on the Domestic Partnership and Benefits Act at the Center for American Progress .

"We've Got to Start Somewhere"

By Kate Bigam

In a bipartisan panel yesterday at the Center for American Progress, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) conveyed their strong support for providing Americans in same-sex relationships with domestic partner benefits. The event also featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Michael Guest, former U.S. Ambassador to Romania and this country's first openly gay ambassador. Guest resigned last year when he decided the Foreign Service's "inequities were just too strong" in the arena of discrimination against GLBT employees.

Smith's end of the discussion was particularly interesting, especially when an audience member pointed out the proverbial elephant in the room: If Smith is so supportive of GLBT equality, why did he favor 2006's Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have amended the Constitution to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman, and which was vigorously opposed by supporters of the GLBT community? Smith responded passionately, insisting that although his religious beliefs couldn't allow him to support same-sex marriage, he is committed to ensuring GLBT equality in terms of opportunity and benefits (he also supports adding sexual orientation to federal hate crimes laws). What's more, Smith seemed genuinely optimistic that the legislative tides are changing in favor of equality, citing a "change in the hearts and minds of Senators on LGBT issues" and the increasingly popular view amongst members of Congress that providing domestic partner benefits, at least, is "a simple issue of fairness and equality."

Despite our drastically different beliefs on the issue of marriage equality, I very much respect Sen. Gordon Smith's comments on this subject, to which he has clearly given much thought. Ensuring domestic partner benefits is one of many crucial steps that will ultimately lead to full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people - including marriage equality. And we've got to start somewhere.

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