Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–June 26, 2009. United States Senator Roland W. Burris delivered a speech from the floor of the United States Senate late Thursday demanding equal rights for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Senator Burris, a staunch supporter of GLBT rights, renewed his commitment to equality during this year’s Pride Month by cosponsoring two landmark pieces of legislation and pledging his commitment to bringing an end to the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy.
“From the Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation, from women’s suffrage to Stonewall, the story of this nation is the story of a long, slow march towards equal rights for every citizen. And I believe our next step in this ongoing struggle must be to secure the rights of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community,” said Senator Burris. “The struggle for equality will not be easy – and it never has been. But if we keep at it together, we will get there.”
Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Act
Senator Burris has co-sponsored the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Act. The legislation, which is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, provides a definition of ‘hate crimes’ which is inclusive of actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation of the victim, and also provides state, local, or tribal law enforcement agencies with technical, forensic, prosecutorial, and other assistance in the investigation or prosecution of violent crimes and hate crimes. As the former Attorney General for Illinois, Senator Burris has worked with hate crimes enforcement firsthand, and is a strong supporter of prosecution and prevention of hate crimes.
“The thing that is particularly heinous about hate crimes is that they are not just an assault on an individual – they are intended as an indiscriminate assault on an entire community,” said Senator Burris. “Our government has a moral obligation to say that this is wrong. And we need to make sure that our law enforcement officers and our courts have all the resources they need to deliver justice.”
Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act
While Senator Burris applauded President Obama’s executive order last week, granting many federal benefits to same-sex couples, he believes the government needs to go further to ensure true equality. Joining with Chairman Joseph Lieberman and Senator Susan Collins, Senator Burris has co-sponsored the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act which is now pending before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. The legislation Burris supports would define ‘domestic partner’ to mean an adult unmarried person living with another adult unmarried person of the same sex in a committed, intimate relationship. It would further grant same-sex couples the same benefits available to opposite-sex couples including: federal health insurance and enhanced dental and vision benefits, retirement and disability benefits, family, medical and emergency leave, group life insurance, long-term care insurance, compensation for work injuries, and benefits for disability, death or captivity.
“I am proude to support a bill that would extend additional benefits to the domestic partners of federal workers. A large number of Fortune 500 companies already offer comprehensive benefits to same-sex couples, and they have done so for years,” said Senator Burris. “this allows them to compete for the best and brightest, attracting talented professionals regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The U.S. government is far behind the private sector on this front, and we must make sure that the federal government is able to compete for the same talented people.”
‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy
Last week, Senator Burris met with Equality Illinois and a number of GLBT leaders in Chicago to discuss the current military policy of ‘Dont’ Ask, Don’t Tell,’ Burris, a member of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voiced his strong opposition to the current discriminatory policy. During a June 22nd press conference at Equality Illinois, Senator Burris vowed to work alongside Senator Ted Kennedy to bring an end to the military’s ban on gay servicemen and women, and to make the United State Armed Services more inclusive and accepting of all the brave individuals who wear our nation’s uniform.
“When we dismiss the sacrifices made by those with a different sexual orientation, we undermine the strength of our fighting forces. When we fail to recognize the brave contributions that gay and lesbian service members continue to make every single day, we diminish oursleves as much as we diminish their service,” Senator Burris said. “We should end this offensive and discriminatory policy, so they can be the best soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines they can be, while living their lives openly and honestly.”
This Sunday, Senator Burris will march alongside members of the GLBT community in Chicago’s Pride Parade.