The nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) as secretary of state has excited advocates on global LGBT issues.
On Friday, President Obama formally announced he would nominate Kerry to serve as secretary of state. Noting Kerry’s service as a Vietnam veteran and chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Obama said, “In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role.”
“Over these many years, John has earned the respect and confidence of leaders around the world,” Obama said. “He is not going to need a lot of on-the-job training. He has earned the respect and trust of his Senate colleagues, Democrats and Republicans. I think it’s fair to say that few individuals know as many presidents and prime ministers, or grasp our foreign policies as firmly as John Kerry.”
But Kerry is also receiving praise for his work on LGBT issues as a U.S. senator. During his tenure as a senator, Kerry has been a supporter of LGBT issues and earned perfect rating of “100” on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard.
In the previous Congress, Kerry voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protection legislation. That support goes back to 1996, when Kerry was among 14 senators to cast a vote against the Defense of Marriage Act. He’s also been a key voice in encouraging the Obama administration to take additional action to protect bi-national same-sex couples and ending the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.
In 2004, Kerry’s LGBT support wasn’t as strong on the issue of marriage as he pursued his run as the Democratic presidential nominee. As President George W. Bush campaigned on the Federal Marriage Amendment, Kerry would uncomfortably respond that he believes marriage is one man, one woman, but didn’t cast a vote when the FMA came up for a vote that year. He also came out in support of the state constitutional amendments in Missouri and Massachusetts banning same-sex marriage.
That changed after his presidential bid as the nation became more accepting of marriage equality. Kerry voted against the amendment in 2006 and has since come out for same-sex marriage. Just this year, he called for the inclusion of marriage-equality plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, commended Obama’s decision to nominate Kerry in statement while recognizing the senator’s previous work on LGBT issues.
“Sen. Kerry has been a trailblazer in the fight for LGBT equality, both domestically and internationally,” Griffin said. “His leadership in repealing the HIV travel ban, as well as his steadfast support for employment non-discrimination protections and addressing the needs LGBT homeless youth demonstrate his dedication to equality and to the rights of LGBT people worldwide.”
Kerry is nominated for the role as secretary of state at a time when LGBT human rights abuses overseas has received heightened attention. Efforts in Uganda to pass an anti-gay bill that would institute a penalty of life imprisonment — and perhaps even death — have worried LGBT advocates across the globe. In Russia, the lower chamber of parliament is set to consider legislation that would impose fines on the spread of pro-LGBT information to minors.
And just last week in Cameroon, an appeals court upheld a three-year jail sentence against Jean-Claude Roger Mbede, a man found guilty of homosexual conduct after he sent a text message to another man saying, “I’m very much in love with you.”
Andre Banks, executive director of All Out, a grassroots organization for international LGBT rights, called on Kerry to continue work already being done at the State Department against LGBT human rights abuses overseas.
“All Out encourages Senator Kerry to continue the State Department’s advocacy for LGBT people around the world, both publicly and through quiet diplomacy,” Banks said. “There are 76 countries where it is a crime to be LGBT, and 10 that carry life in prison or the death penalty. The U.S. must be a strong voice for decriminalization around the world.”
Upon confirmation, Kerry’s work on LGBT issues at the State Department will have to follow the often-praised work by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Her LGBT accomplishments include providing global benefits to LGBT employees and diplomats representing the country overseas. However, she’s among a few high-profile Democrats who hasn’t publicly endorsed marriage equality.
Perhaps Clinton’s most high-profile pro-LGBT act was speaking to the United Nations in Geneva last year against LGBT human rights abuses, telling LGBT people across the globe who feel isolated in their countries, “You have an ally in the United States of America and you have millions of friends among the American people.”
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said Kerry has been exemplary on LGBT issues as a U.S. senator and expects him to continue Clinton’s work.
“Sen. Kerry has been a strong defender of equality for LGBT citizens in this country, and a strong supporter of human rights abroad, so we certainly expect that he will continue to advance Secretary Clinton’s legacy of support for LGBT communities globally,” Bromley said.
Will Frank serve as interim U.S. senator?
But the Kerry nomination is also noteworthy for the LGBT community because it creates the opportunity for Gov. Deval Patrick to appointment as a temporary replacement a high-profile LGBT lawmaker: retiring Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
In a brief interview with Politico on Thursday, Frank, who’s set to retire from Congress at the end of this year, wouldn’t rule out the possibility of accepting the appointment, although he said he hasn’t received an offer from Patrick.
“The governor ought to be free to make whatever choices he makes,” Frank was quoted as saying. “In Massachusetts, you’re talking about an interim, not a permanent appointment. I certainly would not take on any long-term appointment. As for an interim thing, I think accepting offers that haven’t been made is kind of presumptuous.”
Asked to clarify, Frank reportedly said his answer was “not a ‘no’ or a ‘yes.’ Rejecting an offer that hasn’t been made is also presumptuous.”
After the Senate confirms Kerry, Patrick must appoint an interim replacement. A special election must be held in Massachusetts between 145 and 160 days later, and the winner of that election would retain the seat until 2014. Besides Frank, another name that’s been floated as possible interim choice is Vicki Kennedy, the spouse of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.
On Friday, Patrick said during a news conference he’ll move quickly to fill the seat upon Kerry’s confirmation, but wouldn’t confirm any names that he’s considering.
Lesbian Senator-elect Tammy Baldwin is set to be sworn in on Jan. 3, It’s possible Baldwin and Frank, who’ve served together as U.S. House members, could also alongside each other in the Senate.
Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the selection of Frank as an interim senator would well serve Massachusetts — provided Frank is interested in the role.
“I would say if he is offered it and he wants it, very few people would be more qualified to represent Massachusetts in the Senate,” Dison said. “Even on a temporary basis, it would be kind of neat capstone to a pretty remarkable career in public service.”