The U.S. Senate confirmed for the first time an openly gay man as ambassador to a G-20 country with no opposition on Thursday evening along with four other out nominees.
John Berry, former head of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and the highest-ranking openly gay Obama administration official, was approved for the position of U.S. ambassador to Australia by unanimous consent en banc along with dozens of nominees, including other gay appointees.
During his confirmation hearing last month, Berry said he was inspired by the talent he saw in the federal workforce and would take that experience with him to his new post.
“Along the way, I was reminded again and again of the tremendous diversity of our great country, building lasting relationships with fellow Americans from all backgrounds as we worked together to address shared challenges,” Berry said. “If confirmed, I will carry with me these many voices of America, along with a profound commitment to strengthening the shared values that lie at the heart of our strategic relationship with Australia.”
Other openly gay men confirmed to ambassadorial posts were Daniel Baer, who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe; Rufus Gifford, who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Denmark; and James Costos; who was confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Spain.
Michael Guest, who’s gay and a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, told the Washington Blade each of the ambassadorial appointees are well-qualified to serve in their new posts.
“All four of these men have the strong intellect, presence and skills needed to lead our interagency teams abroad,” Guest said. “It’s heartening that the Senate recognized that these qualities, not their sexual orientation, are what matter in service to our country. They’ll be terrific American representatives, and I wish them well in their new duties.”
Another openly gay nominee was also confirmed for a non-ambassadorial post. Stuart Delery, was confirmed as assistant attorney general for the Civil Division at the Justice Department after having served in an acting capacity in that role.
Delery had represented the Obama administration at the district and appellate court level during oral arguments and contended Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act should be struck down.
U.S. Attorney Eric Holder had kind words for Delery in a statement following the news the Senate had confirmed him for a high-level position within the Justice Department.
“I am pleased to congratulate Stuart Delery on his confirmation as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, an office he has held in an acting capacity for more than a year,” Holder said. “During that time, and throughout his service at the department – including his tenure as chief of staff to the deputy attorney general and senior counselor in my office – Stuart has exemplified the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, praised the Senate in a statement for confirming each of the five nominees and also said they’re well-qualified to serve.
“Today the U.S. Senate confirmed five highly qualified nominees to important posts who happen to be gay,” Griffin said. “It is a testament to President Obama and the U.S. Senate that the sexual orientation of these nominees was irrelevant to their qualifications for their posts, as it should be. All Americans should be proud to have these fine public servants representing the interests of the United States.”
Each of the nominees has a history of commitment to public service and the Obama administration. Baer previously worked in the State Department as assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor and worked to advance LGBT rights overseas as part of his portfolio.
His new post at OSCE, which is based in Vienna, comprises 57 European, Asian and North American countries that cooperate on security, terrorism, economic and human rights issues.
During his confirmation hearing, Baer emphasized the link between advancing human rights overseas and protecting security.
“Today, no serious observer can doubt the link between human rights and security,” Baer said. “We know that respect for human rights cannot be relegated to the ‘nice to have, but not essential’ category, because there is no genuine security in the absence of respect for human rights and adherence to the rule of law.”
Gifford and Costos gave strong support to President Obama in his election efforts and the Democratic Party in years past. Gifford raised money for Obama’s campaign in California in 2008, then served as finance director of the Democratic National Committee before becoming finance director for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Costos, vice president of global licensing and retail for HBO, contributed more than $60,000 to the Democratic National Committee in the previous election and nearly $5,000 to Obama’s presidential campaign.
One pending gay nominee yet to be confirmed by the Senate is Todd Hughes, who was appointed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out his nomination last week. Upon confirmation, he’ll become the first openly gay person to serve on a federal appeals court.
Shin Inouye, a White House spokesperson, commended the Senate for the approving these openly gay nominees.
“We appreciate the Senate’s confirmation of many of the Presidents nominees on Thursday,” Inouye said. “These individuals will serve the American people well in their new roles.”
Another openly gay ambassadorial not yet confirmed by the Senate is James “Wally” Brewster, who was nominated as U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republican. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has yet to hold a confirmation hearing for him.
Religious groups are opposing his confirming in that country. In July, a high-ranking Catholic cardinal used an anti-gay slur to describe him and religious leaders organized a “Black Monday” protest to oppose him. It’s unclear if this opposition is playing a role in the Senate’s delay in confirming Brewster.