January 6, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Two Senate retirements means two losses for LGBT people

With two veteran Democratic senators this week announcing plans to retire at the end of the year, the LGBT community is losing two lawmakers that have largely been allies on Capitol Hill.

Media reports circulated this week that Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) are not seeking re-election this year — and pundits are speculating their retirement foretells a dismal election year for Democrats.

Whatever their exit means in November at the polls, the loss of these senators means LGBT people will be losing voices who have been largely reliable in supporting the community.

It’s particularly true for Dodd, who has been an advocate for advancing LGBT rights even when they weren’t as popular as they are today.

Dodd has consistently voted in favor of hate crimes legislation, including the most recent legislation that was signed into law last year by President Obama. The senator has also been a co-sponsor for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act since 1994 and a co-sponsor for the Uniting American Families Act since 1996.

One of the votes in favor of a version of ENDA in 1996 — which ultimately failed by a 49-50 vote — came from Dodd.

Dorgan isn’t a co-sponsor of UAFA or ENDA, but has been a supporter of hate crimes legislation, and voted in favor of the 1996 version of ENDA

The North Dakota senator voted both both times against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006. Dodd voted against the measure in 2004, but cast no vote in 2006.

The records for Dodd and Dorgan aren’t spotless. Both senators voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act when it came to a Senate floor vote in 1996. Dodd seemed have to recanted this vote last year by coming out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Who will succeed these senators come November remains to be seen. In Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, is in contention for Dodd’s seat. LGBT activists have been pressuring Blumenthal to join in on a federal lawsuit against DOMA filed last year by the state of Massachusetts.

Former U.S. House member Rob Simmons is running for the Republican nomination, and he’s a favorite among LGBT Republicans. Before he was voted out of Congress in 2006, Simmons had been a co-sponsor of ENDA and hate crimes legislation.

As far as North Dakota goes, it’s known for being a solidly Republican state in high-profile elections. The favorite in the race seems to be Republican Gov. John Hoeven. He’s against civil unions and same-sex marriage, and spoke out in favor of a state constitutional ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2004.

On the Democratic side, the Huffington Post today reported MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz is considering a run for Dorgan’s seat.

Also named as a contender is Rep. Earl Pomeroy, a Democratic House member from North Dakota. He’s voted in favor of hate crimes legislation and ENDA and twice voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment.

UPDATE: Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded to the retirement of Dodd and Dorgan in a statement to DC Agenda:

“Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan have been reliable supporters of LGBT civil rights and stood strongly in opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. In particular, Chris Dodd has been a leader in speaking out for marriage equality and repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. They will be missed.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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