PROVIDENCE, RI – Rhode Islanders pretty much always know where U.S. Sen. Jack Reed stands on issues. But RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay has found a hot-button social issue on which Reed has been mum.
Jack Reed has long been Rhode Island's most respected political figure. Even in the anti-Washington and anti-incumbent swirl that has enveloped the nation's capitol, every Rhode Island public opinion survey for years has shown high job approval ratings for Reed.
In his last re-election campaign, Democrat Reed coasted to victory with well over 70 percent of the vote. There are many reasons for this. Reed, the son of a Cranston janitor, has a life story that resonates with Rhode Islanders. A graduate of West Point and Harvard Law School, he never took anything for granted and started his stride up the political ladder at the Rhode Island state senate.
First elected to the U.S. House in 1990 and the Senate in 1996, he is known as one of the hardest-working lawmakers in Washington. He and his staff are attentive to Rhode Island's needs. With his off-the-rack suits, his everyman persona and relentless retail politicking, Reed holds one of the safest senate seats in our seriously polarized nation.
And by dint of his work ethic and smarts, Reed has become one of the go-to guys in Washington, a man whose judgment is solicited by colleagues, presidents and journalists on a spectrum of issues, from foreign policy to military affairs and banking regulation.
Along the way, Reed has carved a reputation as a cautious lawmaker who thinks things out before making a decision. He has a fairly traditional Democratic liberal voting record and is usually not afraid of taking strong stands, such as his opposition to the Iraq War. A practicing Roman Catholic, Reed has nonetheless been an unwavering supporter of abortion rights. And Reed has supported gay rights, most prominently by calling for an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military.
So why has Reed been so reluctant to say just where he stands on repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act? Repeal of this 1996 law has been a priority of the gay rights movement, both in Rhode Island and nationally. For about two months, Reed has ducked questions on his stance on this legislation.
Reed spokesman Chip Unruh says, "He continues to carefully study the issue and continues to hear from Rhode Islanders."
Reed declined a request to discuss the pros and cons of the topic. Which is curious because he as the senior member of Rhode Island's Washington delegation, Reed is usually the leader on issues, with the three other Democrats taking their cues from him. Not on DOMA.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Jim Langevin and David Cicilline have all publicly supported repeal. So has Governor Lincoln Chafee.
Before casting his vote for repeal in the Judiciary Committee, Whitehouse said, "I have had the privilege of hearing from numerous Rhode Islanders in loving, committed same-sex relationships, civil unions and marriages who suffering needlessly under current law."
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved repeal on a 10 to 8 vote.
While reflecting on the repeal of DOMA, Langevin recalled a moment when his father told him that one day our nation would look back in disbelief at a time when fellow citizens were denied civil rights because of their sexual orientation.
And Cicilline, who is openly gay, insists that discrimination against a person based on their sexual orientation is wrong and should be illegal.
But what does Jack Reed say? He says he's thinking about it. Doesn't Reed owe all Rhode Islanders an explanation of where he stands on an issue of importance to so many of his constituents?
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