Races in RI and Calif. spark interest among gay rights groups

WOONSOCKET, R.I. – Just three of the 535 members of Congress are openly gay, and two Democratic candidates running for the House hope to inch that number up to five.

Providence, Rhode Island, Mayor David Cicilline is running to succeed Patrick Kennedy. In California, Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet is trying to knock Republican Mary Bono Mack out of the seat she has held for 12 years.

The races have drawn intense interest from gay advocacy groups, which are excited about two candidates who could help push for legislation to institute hate crime protections, prevent discrimination and advocate for same-sex marriage rights.

Cicilline faces a four-way primary Tuesday. He says his sexual orientation is irrelevant to voters, and calls that ``progress.''

Pougnet hopes to be the first openly gay parent in Congress.