I have always been a strong advocate for fairness, equality and civil rights throughout my career. I believe that our nation is stronger for its commitment to defending the rights of all people and for valuing human dignity.
In Congress, I have supported legislation that has battled discrimination based on race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation. From the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, I have fought for equality in the workplace, in the military, on our streets and in our homes.
During his first term, President Obama took immensely important steps toward making the dream of an unprejudiced America a reality. The first bill he signed as President, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restored women's right to fight pay discrimination and has helped to further gender equality in America. As we move forward over the next few years, I want to work with the White House and my colleagues in Congress to build on these successes that protect the rights of all.
In June of 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and returned marriage equality to the state of California. Marriage equality is reflective of the individual liberty and freedom that our nation was founded upon and through these decisions, the Supreme Court reaffirmed those basic American rights. Consenting individuals throughout the country, regardless of where they live, should have the ability to live an authentic life and have their monogamous, long-term relationships recognized and celebrated.
In 2004, I rallied on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in support of same-sex marriage, and I was proud when Massachusetts became the first state to recognize marriage equality. But consenting individuals throughout the country, regardless of where they live, should have the ability to live an authentic life and have their monogamous, long-term relationships recognized and celebrated. Marriage equality is reflective of the principles of individual liberty and freedom that our nation was founded upon and we will be stronger when all Americans are able to enjoy these rights.
I am one of the original, founding members of the Congressional Equality Caucus for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans. As a member of this caucus, I have advocated for the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, and now a total of 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.
On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in United States v. Windsor to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The result of the Supreme Court's decision allows same-sex couples who are legally married to be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples. While the Court's ruling is a huge achievement, we still have a long way to go to ensure that all American citizens can be married and can take advantage of all the benefits and privileges that come with marriage. As only Section 3 of DOMA was repealed by the Supreme Court, we need to pass the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the remaining sections of DOMA. I am a cosponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would mandate that all legally married couples, regardless of where they live, have their marriage recognized by the federal government and have access to the same federal benefits as other married couples.
UNITING AMERICAN FAMILIES ACT
Under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents may sponsor their spouses (and other immediate family members) for immigration purposes. But same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and permanent residents are not considered "spouses," and their partners cannot sponsor them for family-based immigration. Consequently, many same-sex, bi-national couples are kept apart or torn apart. I am a cosponsor of H.R. 519 which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to allow permanent partners the same immigration rights as spouses. I am also an original cosponsor of H.R.717, the Reuniting Families Act, which would similarly help citizens and permanent residents sponsor their permanent partners.
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act celebrated its sixth anniversary in January of 2014. This landmark legislation restored women's right to fight pay discrimination and has helped to further gender equality in America. Legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Act seeks to remove the roadblocks women may encounter and provides women better opportunities to find unobstructed professional success.
Significant steps have been taken in recent years toward ensuring that women are paid equally and fairly for the work that they do, and helping to end gender discrimination. Continuing to build on these signs of progress will advance the rights of women, benefit middle class families, and strengthen our nation.
We still have work to do, though, when it comes to women in the workplace. For example, according to the US Census Bureau, women make only 78 cents for every dollar earned by a by a man, and are more likely to be poor. Iam a co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, legislation that seeks to ensure that women are paid the same amount for doing the same job as their male counterparts.
EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT
My late husband, Paul Tsongas, was the first U.S. Senator to introduce legislation to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation. That was more than 30 years ago, in 1979. I agreed with him then and feel just as strongly about championing similar measures today. Almost directly after I was elected in 2007, I strongly supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act spearheaded by my former colleague Barney Frank. I also supported the Baldwin Amendment, which would have added protections for gender identity saying, "we need to have the most comprehensive protections possible, and the Baldwin Amendment would make a good bill better."
While ENDA passed in the House of Representatives in 2007, it did not move in the Senate. In 2013, ENDA passed the Senate by a vote of 64-32 and I went to the House Floor to urge Speaker John Boehner to bring the bill to the floor for the "sake of dignity, justice and equality."
EQUALITY IN THE MILITARY
REPEAL OF DON'T ASK DON'T TELL
I proudly joined President Obama on December 22, 2010 at the White House as he signed into law the legislation that officially ended the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. It was a moment that I had been working for since joining Congress. In 2008, I participated in the first Congressional hearing on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy since 1993. At that hearing, I questioned the panel of witnesses saying, "it was with the support of the district I now represent, and the vision of Marty Meehan, that this outdated policy has come to the attention of Congress with such powerful effect. With at least 65,000 gay Americans currently serving our nation with distinction, it is clear that Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a policy that must come to an end. This flawed and unworkable policy threatens the readiness of our military by discharging hundreds of vital military personnel critical to our national security and shutting the door to thousands more."