January 23, 2017 at 5:47 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Senate committee advances Rex Tillerson nomination

Rex Tillerson, gay news, Washington Blade

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 23, 2017, voted in favor of Rex Tillerson‘s nomination to become the next secretary of state. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday approved the nomination of former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to become the next secretary of state.

The committee backed Tillerson’s nomination by an 11-10 vote margin.

U.S. Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted for Tillerson. U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) voted against him.

“I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified,” said Corker, who chairs the committee. “He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”

Tillerson’s confirmation hearing took place on Jan. 11.

He raised eyebrows among LGBT rights advocates when he declined to specifically say whether “gay rights are human rights” in response to a question that Coons asked. Tillerson also did not say whether the Trump administration would continue to promote LGBT rights abroad as the previous White House did.

“You need to have a view that when you’re going to be secretary of state the world is looking at you for leadership on these issues,” said Cardin, who is the committee’s ranking member, before Monday’s vote.

Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo in a letter to Corker notes Tillerson played a role in prompting the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay scouts. Log Cabin Republicans also highlighted ExxonMobil’s nondiscrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tillerson was ExxonMobil’s CEO when the company added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 2015. Freedom to Work, an LGBT advocacy group, alleged in a 2013 complaint that the company showed bias against prospective employees who were gay.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Human Rights Commission told the Washington Blade last month that a second lawsuit accusing ExxonMobil of anti-gay discrimination is “still pending.”

ExxonMobil signed $300 billion oil deal with Russia

Tillerson’s ties to Russia have also sparked concern among advocates.

ExxonMobil in 2011 signed a $300 billion agreement with Russia that would allow the company to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The sanctions the Obama administration imposed against Russia in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and other military interventions in Ukraine derailed the project.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 signed a controversial law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors in his country. Tillerson’s confirmation hearing took place against the backdrop of allegations the Kremlin sought to interfere with the election.

Rubio is among the committee members who raised Tillerson’s ties to Russia during his confirmation hearing. Shaheen in a statement she read after voting against Tillerson’s nomination raised the Kremlin’s reported efforts to influence the election and other issues that include climate change and women’s health.

“Mr. Tillerson’s willingness to serve is very admirable, and I appreciate his commitment to the Transatlantic Alliance and NATO, as well as his strong support for programs that empower women and girls around the world,” said Shaheen. “However, I was troubled by his non-committal responses on the importance of supporting reproductive health and family planning, imposing further sanctions on Russia, calling out violations of human rights and addressing climate change. In the end, I simply have too many concerns and outstanding questions about his positions to vote to confirm him.”

The U.S. Senate is widely expected to confirm Tillerson’s nomination in the coming days.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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