January 14, 2010 | by Chris Johnson
Two Senate retirements mean two losses for gays

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

Media reports circulated last 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 retirement of these senators means LGBT people will be losing voices that have been largely reliable in supporting gay rights. It’s particularly true for Dodd, who was an advocate for advancing LGBT rights even when such stances weren’t as politically tenable as they are today.

Dodd has consistently voted in favor of hate crimes legislation, including the most recent bill that was signed into law last year by President Obama. The senator also has 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 also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006. Dodd voted against the measure in 2004, but cast no vote in 2006.

The records on LGBT issues 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 that vote last year, though, when he came out in favor of same-sex marriage.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement to DC Agenda that Dodd and Dorgan would be missed.

“Senators Chris Dodd and Byron Dorgan have been reliable supporters of LGBT civil rights and stood strongly in opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment,” Solmonese said. “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.”

Who will succeed the two senators 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 a federal lawsuit against DOMA filed last year by the state of Massachusetts.

Former U.S. Rep. 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.

North Dakota is known for being a solidly Republican state. The favorite in the race seems to be Republican Gov. John Hoeven. He’s against civil unions and same-sex marriage, and spoke in favor of a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2004.

On the Democratic side, the Huffington Post 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.

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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