Promised Fireworks at Hearing Fizzle

Feldblum confirmation hearing for EEOC post is a strangely quiet affair

There were expectations that Republicans would challenge openly gay EEOC nominee Chai Feldblum Thursday over some of her writings. Those writings included how non-discrimination laws might sometimes trump bias based on religious beliefs. And then there was the 2006 statement she signed onto that expressed support for polygamy. But nothing came from Republicans.

Instead, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, quizzed Feldblum about the polygamy statement.

”Something has come to our attention here, a petition,” said Harkin of the statement that expresses support for ”committed loving households in which there are more than one conjugal partner.”

Feldblum
Feldblum

”That says polygamy to me,” said Harkin, noting that it is illegal in the United States and that, in the 20-plus years he has worked with her, he never knew she supported polygamy.

”I do not support polygamy,” said Feldblum. ”I am sorry I signed that document and I have asked that my name be removed.”

The statement, “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision for All Our Families & Relationships,” (which can be read at beyondmarriage.org) was developed in 2006 by a group of 20 LGBT activists who met to discuss ”marriage and family politics” in the United States. Feldblum was not one of those participants but she did sign onto the statement, along with such political notables as author-journalist Barbara Ehrenriech, gay scholar John D’Emilio, feminist publisher Gloria Steinem, Catholic feminist theologian Mary E. Hunt, and gay author Armistead Maupin.

As of Thursday morning, Feldblum’s name was still listed as a signatory.

Harkin suggested that he and Feldblum, like many people in public life, often have petitions put in front of them with requests – from friends and colleagues — to sign on. Feldblum said that was the case with this statement. She said while she agreed with the ”general thrust” of the overall statement ”about support for the range of caregiving relationships,” the full statement ”goes beyond what I would have said and it was mistake to sign it.”

And that was the end of any expression of concern about Feldblum’s nomination.

A number of conservative organizations had signaled in the days leading up to the hearing that they were opposed to Feldblum’s nomination. The pro-life news website lifenews.com characterized Feldblum as having worked for ”the pro-abortion Human Rights Campaign Fund” as well as having clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun, ”the infamous judge who handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that has allowed more than 51 million abortions.” The Traditional Values Coalition called Feldblum ”yet another radical Obama nominee,” saying she would ”use her power to strip nearly all First Amendment rights of freedom of expression/free exercise of religion from businesses.” And The Family Research Council said Feldblum ”openly admitted to supporting polygamy.”

Feldblum was nominated to be one of five commissioners on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a position considered particularly significant to the LGBT community. Should the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) pass, Feldblum would have considerable influence in the writing the federal regulations to enforce the law. She would also be the first openly LGBT person to serve on the commission.

Feldblum and one other nominee are, so far, the only openly LGBT nominees to raise a hackle out of right-wing conservatives. A Catholic News Agency story on October 1 suggested Feldblum supported a ”radical 2006 manifesto that endorsed polygamous households.”

Interestingly, Feldblum made prominent mention of her affiliation with another Catholic institution, Catholic Charities USA. The Georgetown University Law School’s Federal Legislation Clinic, which Feldblum founded in 1993, worked for many years representing Catholic Charities.

Feldblum assured the Committee that she is aware of and comfortable with the religious exemptions in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and in ENDA.

”I strongly support that exemption,” said Feldblum, ”…and I would not have a problem at all enforcing that exemption.”

Feldblum also told the Committee that she owes her core values to her parents, who are both deceased. She credited her mother with teaching her to treat people ”who are different from ourselves with true respect and dignity.” She said her father, who was a rabbi, instilled in her a ”love for legal text and a driving commitment to justice.”

Feldblum is probably best known for her work on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which passed in 1990, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public accommodations, and other areas against people with disabilities. The law also covered people with HIV infection. She was also involved in last year’s bill that made amendments to the original law.

But Feldblum is best known to the LGBT community as a key counsel on the drafting and negotiations over the ENDA. She also served for a time as legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. Feldblum served for a year as a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. She is currently a professor of law at Georgetown University and serves as co-director of the university’s Federal Legislation and Administrative Clinic.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) introduced Feldblum to the Committee, noting that she was an ”integral part” of making ADA a reality. Feldblum introduced to the committee her partner Nan Hunter, another long-time gay legal activist and law professor.

Members of the Senate have 10 days to submit any additional information or questions.

© 2009 Keen News Service

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