March 21, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
EXCLUSIVE: Elizabeth Warren pledges to lead on LGBT rights

Elizabeth Warren at Women In Finance symposium (photo public domain)

Elizabeth Warren, who is running to unseat U.S. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), pledged to support a series of pro-LGBT initiatives and called on President Obama to endorse marriage equality in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Tuesday.

Warren endorsed the idea of an executive order from President Obama that would require companies doing business with the U.S. government to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies for their workers.

“Any steps that the president can take toward non-discrimination benefit the whole country,” Warren said. “I don’t know how else to say it. It’s the right thing to do.”

The measure is sometimes referred to as the “ENDA” executive order because its effect would be similar to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but limited to federal contractors. The White House hasn’t said whether it will issue the directive.

Warren called on President Obama to complete his now 17-month-old “evolution” and endorse marriage equality. She also said she supports the call for a marriage equality plank in the Democratic Party platform this September.

Asked whether she wants Obama to finish evolving and support same-sex marriage, Warren chuckled and responded that was indeed her view.

“I want to see the president evolve because I believe that is right; marriage equality is morally right,” Warren said.

Warren expressed similar sentiments about the Democratic Party platform, saying it would build support for ending the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.

“I’d be glad to see it included in the Democratic platform,” she said. “It helps raise awareness of the impact of DOMA and it helps build support to repeal it.”

The platform committee is set to discuss language for the Democratic Party platform when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention Sept. 3 in Charlotte, N.C.

Warren, an expert on the American economy and personal finance, gained notoriety after she chaired the congressional oversight panel for the 2008 bank bailout program. She led the establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was set up by the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, and was a favorite among progressives to head the organization before she launched her Senate bid and Richard Courdray was recess appointed to the role.

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work and among the chief advocates of the ENDA executive order, said “it makes perfect sense” for Warren to come out for the measure because it would ensure taxpayer money won’t go to work environments hostile to LGBT people

“I hope Ms. Warren will telephone President Obama and urge him to pick up his pen and sign the ‘ENDA Executive Order’ that his Justice and Labor departments have drafted and delivered to the White House for his signature,” Almeida said.

Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, also praised Warren for supporting the initiatives related to same-sex marriage and called on Obama and the Democratic Party to come into alignment with her views.

“We welcome Elizabeth Warren alongside the many other leaders, and the signers of our online petition, as we urge President Obama and the Democratic Party to stand with Presidents Clinton and Carter in the growing nationwide majority for marriage,” Wolfson said.

Warren, who’s already expressed support for DOMA repeal, also said during the interview that she would take a leadership role in efforts to repeal the 1996 anti-gay law if elected to the Senate.

“I think that DOMA is a terrible statute,” Warren said. “For forever, the federal government has permitted the states to define marriage, and now the federal government steps in and says, ‘Yeah, the states get to do it for most families, but not those families because we don’t like them.’”

If elected to the Senate, Warren would represent a state where more than 13,000 same-sex couples have been legally married. She said DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of these unions, is “institutionalized discrimination.”

“Being a senator from Massachusetts, it’s possible not just to be a vote in the right direction, it’s possible to provide leadership,” Warren said. “I think that starts by calling out the statute on how wrong it is morally and counter to our basic legal foundation.”

Warren noted that DOMA means a same-sex couple married in Massachusetts won’t have access to federal benefits and that those with grown children, in some instances, can’t visit grandchildren in another state “without being treated during the visit as having a different marital status.”

“I think there’s already legislation pending, but it’s got to have some energy behind it and that means you’ve got to be willing to go out and talk about it — not only here in Massachusetts but around the country on national television to get out and make that case,” Warren said.

Warren conducted the interview with the Blade via phone after she visited Fenway Health, a Boston-based organization that provides health services to the LGBT community and conducts research and advocacy for LGBT health.

She called the work at Fenway Health “extraordinary” because the institute provides both health services and engages in research.

“What they see on the clinical side informs what they’re doing on the research side,” Warren said. “So they get ideas and they’re able to test them, and the two move back and forth. As a result, we have improvement in both health outcomes for those who go to the center. At the same time, developments in research help support advances in health care and other services for LGBT [people] around the country.”

Warren said the visit she paid to the institute was a reminder that community health centers are integral to providing health services. The health care reform measure President Obama signed into law in 2010 makes grants available to such institutions.

“Community health centers are very much supported by the Affordable Care Act,” Warren said. “Republicans have declared war on it — Scott Brown, my Republican opponent, and the Republican presidential candidates have said they will repeal the Affordable Care Act. That would be devastating to community health centers, not just Fenway, but community centers across the country.”

In September, the Department of Health & Human Services awarded the institute $248,000 to help create a national training and technical assistance center aimed at helping community health centers improve the health of LGBT populations.

Warren is running against Brown — a Republican senator representing a “blue” state. Brown won praise from LGBT advocates for voting in favor of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal in 2010, but that was only after he twice voted against defense legislation that included repeal language.

Warren said Brown’s vote on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal was “a good vote” and that he should be commended for it, but added she’d step up the LGBT advocacy if elected to the Senate.

“I’ll be there on every vote,” Warren said. “I’ll be there not just to provide a vote, but leadership, and I think that’s what the LGBT community really needs.”

Warren praised Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), who’s running for the open seat in Wisconsin in a bid that could make her the country’s first openly gay U.S. senator.

The two have set up a joint fundraising group called the Massachusetts-Wisconsin Victory Fund, which thus far has raised $171,250, and have appeared together in a joint fundraiser in Philadelphia hosted by donor Peter Buttenwieser.

“I was delighted to do the event with Tammy,” Warren said. “We actually did a second [event] together. We were out in San Francisco with other women senators and women challengers. And I hope we’ll have more opportunities to do that. I’d really love to see Tammy get elected. I worked with Tammy before, so I’m a big fan.”

Warren criticized the Republican presidential candidates for their anti-gay views. Each of the GOP hopefuls who’ve won any states — Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — backs a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country and rescind it in states like Massachusetts.

“I think their position is wrong,” Warren said. “They have a vision of America that does not represent who we are as a people and the kind of country we want to build.”

Over the course of her campaign, Warren said she’s spoken with LGBT organizations about a variety of subjects including LGBT rights, although she couldn’t immediately identify any of the groups. Earlier this month, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her candidacy.

“We talked about health care issues, we’ve talked about economic issues, we’ve talked about justice issues — particularly on DOMA and marriage equality,” Warren said. “We’ve also had conversations that range into other areas about art, about education, about the importance of anti-bullying programs.”

 

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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