The Public Servant: Kirsten Gillibrand

The current tally of U.S. senators who publicly support nationwide marriage equality is small but growing. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand became the 11th member of the group when New York governor David Paterson tapped her in January to fill the junior seat vacated by now-secretary of State Hillary Clinton. When she heard she had earned the post, Gillibrand made phone calls to a select number of colleagues and supporters—New York’s Empire State Pride Agenda among them. “It was by no means an introduction,” Gillibrand says. “I was proud to work with them and other LGBT advocacy organizations during my time in the House of Representatives.”

Soon Gillibrand also became an outspoken proponent of repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”—even as more seasoned colleagues awaited direction from President Obama on a legislative timetable to expunge the policy. She first considered an amendment to a defense authorization bill calling for an 18-month moratorium on discharges. “While we didn’t have the 60 votes necessary to defeat an expected filibuster, it became clear that there was far more support for repeal than what was previously thought,” Gillibrand says. “I felt it was critical that we begin a debate, so I asked [Michigan] senator [Carl] Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, if he would hold a hearing, and he agreed.” The DADT hearing had yet to be scheduled, though it would be the first such Senate committee review since 1993.

As for marriage rights, Gillibrand says she sees a generational shift well under way in the halls of Congress. “Many people my age understand that gay men and women have the same families, relationships, and inalienable human rights as straight people do.”

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