Two of Congress's three openly gay members said Saturday that the U.S. House is poised to pass bills to provide health coverage for the same-sex partners of gay federal workers and to protect all gay and transgender employees from job discrimination.
Speaking to an international conference of gay politicians in San Francisco, U.S. Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., said they expect a domestic partner benefits bill to come up for a vote by the end of the year and the employment bill to reach the floor early in 2010.
The lawmakers said they are also confident that the House will include in the annual military spending bill next year a provision to repeal the law that bans gays from serving in the U.S. military. All the measures face a harder time in the Senate following the death of longtime ally Sen. Edward Kennedy, but Baldwin and Polis said they remained optimistic.
"I'm hopeful we will see those three pieces of legislation make it all the way, or damn close," said Baldwin, who is sponsoring the federal worker domestic partner bill.
Office of Personnel Management director John Berry, the Obama administration's highest ranking gay appointee, told the conference that the president strongly supports the trio of gay rights measures.
Including transgender workers as part of the legislation to ban job discrimination and lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gay service members may especially meet opposition in Congress, Berry said. But he said that with a Democrat in the White House and Democratic majorities controlling the House and the Senate, victories were "within our grasp."
"The tide of public opinion is in our favor. The forces of intolerance are on the run. We have a president who has been clear in his support for our community and in his commitment to our equality," Berry said. "This is the best opportunity we will ever have as a community, and shame on us if we don't succeed."
Although gay activists have criticized President Barack Obama for not moving more quickly on their concerns, both Polis and Baldwin said the pressure should be directed at Congress because the president can not act alone.
"LGBT leaders need to be focusing in on the people we need to win over instead of just trying to talk to our friends and being angry they haven't delivered," Polis said.