Two weeks ago, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Mark Kirk for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Some were quick to criticize us for endorsing a Republican incumbent who has voted with the LGBT community, and thought we should have endorsed a progressive opponent to oust him. But here’s why we believe that would have been wrong and short-sighted.
HRC has always aimed to make LGBT equality a bipartisan issue. That’s why HRC is, and always has been, a bipartisan organization. In fact, we have never in our history won a major legislative battle without bipartisan support. Today, that bipartisan support is all the more important when the threshold for passing anything through the Senate is 60 votes. The truth is we need more cross party cooperation on issues of equality, not less.
So when members of Congress vote the right way and stand up for equality—regardless of party—we must stand with them. We simply cannot ask members of Congress to vote with us, and then turn around and try to kick them out of office.
Senator Kirk has been a strong ally in the Republican Party. He was the first Senate Republican to cosponsor the Equality Act, a critical step towards full federal equality. He was one of fewer than a dozen Congressional Republicans to support marriage equality, and he was also the Republican lead on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). He supported the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. And, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would never have passed the Senate without the leadership of Republican Senators including Mark Kirk.
Still, some have questioned his imperfect Congressional Scorecard rating. But Senator Kirk’s score from the last Congress does not reflect his current co-sponsorship of the Equality Act. And because bills in the House and Senate have differed, comparing his rating to a House Member's is apples to oranges.
At a time when many in his party are trying to roll back our rights or shy away from LGBT issues, Senator Kirk has worked to move the GOP toward equality. We must reward that kind of leadership from a Republican in the Senate. I wish we had more of them.
If you are still unconvinced that HRC did the right thing supporting a Republican incumbent Senator who has championed LGBT equality time and again, I will leave you with this thought. After Sen. Kirk suffered a stroke in 2012, he faced months of rehabilitation, and was unable to participate in many votes in the Senate. In November, 2013, he walked up the steps of the Capitol, and his first speech was about the need for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act: “I have been silent for the last two years due to a stroke … I have risen to speak because I believe so passionately about enacting the ENDA statute,” he said. Nine other Republicans eventually voted for the bill, which would not have been possible without his leadership.