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Sexual Orientation Is Not a Job Qualification

Gay rights: Senators opposing an ambassadorial nomination may be the ones out of stepwith American values.

June 04, 1998|DIANNE FEINSTEIN and ROBERT G. TORRICELLI | Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sen. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) have led efforts to confirm Hormel

As this country during its history has expanded opportunity to all Americans, the diplomatic corps that represents the U.S. abroad followed suit. In 1949, the Senate confirmed the first female American ambassador, Eugenie Moore Anderson, to represent the United States in Denmark. In 1953, the Senate voted to send the first African American ambassador, Jessie Locker, to serve as envoy to Liberia. And in 1965, the Senate approved the nomination of Patricia Harris to be the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, making her the first African American woman to gain such a post.

In each case, legislators from both parties rose above whatever prejudices they might have had to let fairness rule: Americans should be able to serve their country regardless of gender, ethnic heritage or race.

Now, the Senate is once more faced with an outstanding nominee and a question of fairness: Should a man be denied the opportunity to serve as the U.S ambassador to Luxembourg because he is gay? As with Harris 30 years ago, no one can deny that James Hormel is eminently qualified to serve as a U.S. envoy. In 1995, Hormel served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Last year, he served as an alternate representative to the 51st session of the U.N. General Assembly. And last October, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended his approval as ambassador to Luxembourg.

Yet a few conservative senators refuse to let Hormel's nomination go forward. They find the nominee unsuited for the job based not on his talents or his accomplishments, but on his sexual orientation. Motivating these GOP members, as Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition said, is that they want to use this nomination to "show what they stand for." By blocking the nomination of Hormel, the Republican Party is in danger of becoming the party of prejudice and bigotry. They put the bipartisan commitment to Jefferson's call for "equal opportunity for all and special privilege for none" in jeopardy.

As even his opponents concede, Hormel's qualifications are impressive. He has been actively involved in education, philanthropy and public service. His foundation, Equidex, has donated millions of dollars from Hormel's family businesses to causes including the Catholic Youth Organization, the American Indian College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, AIDS organizations and Jewish and Children's Family Services. He is a committed civic leader, serving on the board of directors of the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the City Club of San Francisco, which was created to bring together community leaders of diverse backgrounds. As Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, "Mr. Hormel has demonstrated outstanding diplomatic and leadership skills. He will be an excellent U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg." His Senate opponents nevertheless say that Hormel is unfit to represent our country because he is out of step with American life and American values. Is it possible that it is Hormel's critics who are out of step with American values?

Forty-two Democratic senators recently sent a letter to Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) asking for a vote on the nomination. And recently, rumors of support among moderate Republicans for Hormel's confirmation circulated on Capitol Hill. Now is the time for these senators to heed the advice of Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, who counseled, "Stand with anybody that stands right. Stand with him while he is right and part with him when he goes wrong." We urge our colleagues to part with the Republican Party's extreme faction and bring the nomination of this talented man to a vote of the full Senate.

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