I watched the opening statements made by the nineteen senators in Monday's confirmation hearing for Judge Sotomayor. Each senator previewed what they were going to be asking Judge Sotomayor tomorrow, and as a gay man I was disappointed. Not one Senator stated that he or she would be asking Judge Sotomayor about the need to protect the rights of the LGBT community. How can that be? Judge Sotomayor will sit on the court and decide major decisions that affect the LGBT community but not one senator stated that these inherent rights were important enough to ask her about in the hearing. Senators made clear they would be asking about many other rights including gun rights, environmental rights, the rights of religious minorities, the rights of communities of color, and the right of women to choose. But not one said they would ask about LGBT rights.
In fact, the only senators to bring up gay issues were Senator Tom Corburn of Oklahoma and Senator John Cornyn of Texas, both of whom mentioned gay issues to bash the idea of gay rights. Senator Corburn mentioned he disagreed with the "empathy standard" in which a judge who hears a case on gay rights would look at the case through the eyes of gay people. Senator Cornyn on the other hand chastised the Supreme Court for inventing "new rights" such as the right to "sexual activity," a clear reference to the courts overturning of sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.
For those keeping score, that's two senators who felt the need to gay bash and no senators who felt the need to speak up for gay rights. All this while liberal senators, time and again, heralded the importance of diversity. Time and again, senators made clear that Judge Sotomayor's Latina background would only add to her value as a judge. I couldn't agree more. Being a minority allows Judge Sotomayor by manner of her life experience, the ability to see and understand issues differently. Perhaps, that is why no senator sought fit to ask about the rights of gay people. After all, the United States Senate has no diversity when it comes to the LGBT community. There are no openly gay senators. There never has been an openly gay senator. So perhaps it is not surprising that all senators forget to ask about gay rights because when push comes to shove gay rights simply aren't important to them in same way that they would be important to a gay person.
But that should not mean that gay rights aren't important. The simple fact is this: LGBT people matter and need to hear that Judge Sotomayor will protect our rights as a member of the Supreme Court.
So senators, when the hearing resumes, do right by the LGBT community. Ask Judge Sotomayor about our lives, our rights and our humanity. Given we still cannot serve openly in the military, we can still be fired in over thirty states because of our sexual orientation and even more because of our gender identity, and we still do not have the full rights of marriage, I can think of no community who needs such assurances more.