April 16, 2012 at 7:38 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
EXCLUSIVE: Baldwin calls for marriage equality plank in Dem platform

U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin speaking at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual brunch at the Washington Hilton. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin has joined the chorus of those calling for an endorsement of marriage equality in the Democratic Party platform, saying the inclusion of such language would be a “statement of values.”

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade on Sunday, Baldwin said the inclusion of same-sex marriage in the platform would be “very important.”

“I think that would be tremendous, and we have to be focusing on advancing equality in so many different realms,” Baldwin said. “It’s a statement of values, and I think it’s very important to be included.”

The candidate made the remarks prior to her speech at the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s annual brunch at the Washington Hilton.

Baldwin’s support for marriage equality in the platform puts her in the company of nearly two dozen U.S. senators, along with others, including Democratic National Convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren. A former U.S. senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, has also called for the inclusion of the language.

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, said he “welcomes” Baldwin’s support for a marriage equality plank in the platform.

“Rep. Baldwin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, joins numerous party leaders and tens of thousands of Democrats who have signed our online petition in speaking up for the Democratic values of freedom, family and inclusion that are the core of the case for the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said.

The platform committee is set to debate platform language when it gathers for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. DNC officials have declined to say whether the platform will include marriage equality.

Baldwin is seeking the Democratic nomination in the race to represent Wisconsin in the Senate and replace retiring Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.). Her election would make her the first openly gay person elected to the Senate. Baldwin, who has represented Wisconsin’s second congressional district for seven terms, was the first non-incumbent openly gay person elected to Congress in 1998.

During the interview, Baldwin also responded to recent news that the Obama administration won’t issue an executive order at this time barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, saying, “We’ve got to keep on organizing.”

Like the White House, Baldwin emphasized the importance of legislation to address the problem — known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT workers.

“We also have to focus on the importance of passing an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act through the Congress,” Baldwin said. “We embrace executive orders when they can occur. This president has issued several that have advanced our protections as a community significantly, but there’s no substitute for having Congress act in sending the president the bill to sign.”

LGBT advocacy groups expressed disappointment when the administration announced it wouldn’t take executive action against workplace discrimination. Asked why she thinks the administration declined to issue the directive, Baldwin said she hasn’t “been privy to those conversations” on the executive order.

But Baldwin admitted that movement on ENDA is unlikely in the current Congress given Republican control of the House and said the focus should be on increasing co-sponsors for the bill.

“There’s not a pro-equality majority controlling the House of Representatives right now,” Baldwin said. “So, on the House side, we really have to continue to build support for the day on which we first have a leadership that’s pro-equality. And that’s signing on more and more co-sponsors to legislation.”

As a co-chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus, Baldwin said she’s focused on briefings on Capitol Hill, recalling one that took place on March 29 hosted by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) “on issues of workplace discrimination and why these protections are so desperately needed.”

Asked whether she wants to see President Obama conclude his evolution on same-sex marriage before Election Day, Baldwin laughed and said he’s “moving in the right direction on this issue.”

Baldwin noted that Obama announced early last year that his administration would no longer defend the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in court and “all the steps we’ve taken to protect families of LGBT communities who work in the federal workforce.”

In 2009, Obama issued a memorandum extending limited benefits to the partners of federal employees. The administration cited DOMA as the reason why major benefits like health care couldn’t be offered.

“He’s evolving in the right direction, and I’m encouraging that,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin’s statement on Obama’s marriage evolution is somewhat different than that of her fellow U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren, who said in a separate interview with the Blade that she wants to see Obama complete his evolution because “marriage equality is morally right.”

Baldwin came to the Victory Fund brunch after announcing that she topped $2 million in fundraising for the first quarter of 2012, giving her a total of $2.7 million in cash on hand.

Asked about the extent to which she attributed those numbers to her support from the LGBT community, Baldwin said they’re from a “tremendous outpouring of grassroots support” and 91 percent of her donors contributed $100 or less to her campaign.

“This is a grassroots campaign,” Baldwin said. “There’s tremendous excitement on many, many different levels. I’m going to be a fighter for the working people and middle class in the state of Wisconsin; I’m not afraid to stand up to big and powerful interests, and I’m going to be a leader on equality issues.”

Republican candidates in the race haven’t fared as well in fundraising. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson reportedly raised about $660,000 while former Rep. Mark Neumann raised $650,000.

Baldwin said she hasn’t encountered any attacks related to her sexual orientation thus far in her Senate bid and said she expects the race for the Senate to focus on economic issues.

“I think almost everybody agrees that voters are going to be thinking about the economy and jobs and growth,” Baldwin said. “That’s what I expect everyone to stick to. So, that’s what I’m expecting at this point.”

One piece of pro-LGBT legislation that Baldwin sponsors in the House, the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act, recently saw a big boost in the Senate when 20 new co-sponsors signed on in support. All the new co-sponsors for the legislation — which would extend health and pension benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees — were Democrats.

Asked whether the legislation could see movement during the 112th Congress, Baldwin said the addition of 20 co-sponsors to the Senate version of the bill represents progress and she hopes “it’ll continue to gain ground and traction.”

“One of things that we’re talking about at this particular celebration earlier today is the difference that our allies can make one conversation at a time, persuading others to get on board to become informed to advance equality,” Baldwin said. “We’ve got to keep on doing that in both chambers of the Congress.”

During her speech at the Victory Fund brunch, Baldwin pressed the need for passage of ENDA as well as DOMA repeal. She touted being the author of legislation that would institute the “Buffett rule” and make the top 1 percent of income earners pay the same tax rate as other Americans.

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

  • Good column on a great person. Tammy Baldwin is one of our Sheroes as she was called in her introduction at the Victory Fund brunch. Tammy has a real shot at being the next Senator from Wisconsin and we all need to get behind her capaign to ensure that it is successful.

  • If the Congress passes laws allowing two men or two women to marry, those will never be legitimate marriages. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and that is not new information. The gay rights movement is inherently dishonest, and is an attempt to destroy our society.

    • You could not be more wrong, Erik. I encourage you to learn more about the topic. And, by the way, I’m your worst nightmare: an educated, partnered, voting, activist, feminist, happy, well employed lesbian.

    • So why are you reading the Washington Blade? To troll for sex with other guys? Surely not to meet a future spouse? Or just to look at “the enemy” from the inside of its community newspaper, to try to find ways to insinuate and undermine and implant illegitimate, un-American values such as your view that heterosexual marriage is “more legitimate” than same-sex marriage. Love is love is love. Or didn’t you know?

  • Love between two people is a wonderful thing. I am a straight, married woman and have no problem with others experiencing the same love I’ve had for 40 years. Why should we discriminate and leave out the LBGT love that is shared. People need to be loved and be happy. There is no greater feeling no matter who you are. Tammy Baldwin, best of luck with your campaign.

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