Agents for Change

05/31/2006 02:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

While I appreciate Howie Klein's passion, I am equally if not more passionate about standing up to the looming threat in the fight for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans: the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Like my predecessor Elizabeth Birch did with the Defense of Marriage Act, I mince no words when it comes to this amendment. It's discriminatory, it's divisive and it's vote next week is a deliberate political maneuver that makes pawns out of same-sex couples who deserve to be protected just as equally under their Constitution as their neighbors.

The Human Rights Campaign has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to the amendment. Any politician who votes for it won't see support from us. With the vote next week, this litmus test is critical to our lobbying efforts.

Senator Lieberman, like many of the more moderate Democrats and Republicans in Congress, sees this amendment for exactly what it is. He's voted against it in the past and spoken out against it on the floor. He knows that not only would it prohibit marriage for same-sex couples by writing discrimination into the U.S. Constitution for the first time in 230 years, but it would also seriously threaten domestic partnerships and civil unions, including those that exist in his home state of Connecticut.

Sadly, like most Senators, Lieberman doesn't yet support marriage fairness. But he does believe that same-sex couples deserve protections under law. Obviously, the Human Rights Campaign is further along when it comes to marriage. But we don't have the liberty, nor should we, of closing the door to a conversation about marriage that will continue over the next several years, particularly when that member of Congress is scoring 88 percent on our issues.

That would be a dangerous and reactionary path to take. While most Americans are not yet where we want them on marriage, our job is to build that support to a majority and we should not shut the door to those that don't support it today. What would that do for us in the future?

I don't know about you, but I think we'd all be better off as a country if we did more to find common ground. And there's a lot of common ground I share with Senator Lieberman. In addition to his staunch opposition to the amendment, he is the lead co-sponsor of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Act. This critical bill would ensure that same-sex couples aren't taxed on their health insurance benefits, as is the situation for spousal benefits. He's co-sponsoring the Early Treatment for HIV Act. He's been a strong supporter of federal hate crimes law for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. He's co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and voted for it in 1996.

Contrary to Klein's assertions, Lieberman's score on GLBT issues is high. And it's been high for years. On the Human Rights Campaign scorecard ranking members of Congress on where they stand when it comes to GLBT issues, the Senator scored an 88 percent in the 108th and 100 percent in the 107th. He scored another 100 in the 106th, an 83 in the 105th, an 89 in the 104th, a 78 in the 103rd, a 75 in the 102nd and 90 percent in the 101st.

While Klein claims little has changed for GLBT Americans in the past decade, I beg to differ and I think most GLBT Americans would join me. The Supreme Court overturned sodomy laws. The state of Massachusetts became the first in the nation to support marriage equality. In a threat so great it's almost difficult to overstate, Congress voted down an attempt to put discrimination in the U.S. Constitution. Dozens of states across the nation have added non-discrimination and hate crimes protections. Businesses are leading the way when it comes to ensuring their employees get equal benefits on the job. The House turned back an effort to ban adoption by gay couples in the District of Columbia and the House voted to uphold President Clinton's order banning workplace discrimination in the federal government.

It may be easy to complain about all that's missing, but, when talking about all that's left to achieve, it's more helpful to remember how far we've come. And the support of members of Congress cannot, must not, be understated when thinking of our achievements. Against a wave of backlash - in the form of constitutional amendments, anti-gay riders and unforgivable rhetoric from the floor of Congress to the Rose Garden - they've held the line and moved us forward with historic votes that are building momentum that is clearly on our side.

Human Rights Campaign is proud to endorse these supporters. From our close friend and champion Representative Tammy Baldwin to our long-time supporter Senator Lieberman to the always fair-minded and outspoken Senator Lincoln Chafee, our endorsees give voice to the millions of Americans who believe in fairness. While they may not yet be with us on every issue, these Americans represent how far we've come in the last decade.

Progress is not made by shutting the door to the millions of Americans - whether they are sitting in the cubicle next to you or on the floor of the Senate - who are consistently and strongly supporting you but who don't yet agree with you on every single issue. Progress is made by welcoming friends to the table and bringing them further along through mutual trust and commitment. People who are having these conversations are - and always have been - America's greatest agents for change.