With a new year came new resolutions, new goals, and yes, a handful of new Congress members. But they’re not the same run-of-the-mill politicians we’ve grown to expect. In fact, there are some to really get excited about.
It’s a victory that this Senate is the first ever to have 20 female senators – and hopefully this is just the beginning, what with the first all-female delegation in New Hampshire, comprised of Congresswomen Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster, Democrats, with Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.
Tammy Baldwin, Democrat from Wisconsin, is the first openly gay senator, and Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona Democrat, is the first openly bisexual member of Congress. Will that translate into a bigger push in support of same-sex marriage, and maybe even other LBGTI rights? After all, Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington have already legalized gay marriage, as well as the District of Columbia and two Native American tribes. Rhode Island recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions, while California allowed gay marriage in 2008 (and recognizes them currently on a conditional basis).
Other countries, like Sweden, Argentina, Denmark, Canada, and Spain, already legally perform same-sex marriages nationwide – and maybe eventually the U.S.? It could happen, especially when we consider that current Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama both openly endorse same-sex marriage. Back in October, Biden even said transgender discrimination is “the civil rights issue of our time.”
Newly-inducted Hawaiian Democrats Mazie Hirono and Tulsi Gabbard are the first Buddhists and Hindu members of Congress, respectively. And why not? According to 2007 research by Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, while 78.4 percent of U.S. Americans identify as some version of Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Orthodox included), those who are unaffiliated or unsure make up the next largest group with 16.1 percent. Atheists make up 1.6 percent; 2.4 percent are Agnostic; .8 percent are unsure; and a whopping 12.1 percent are “nothing in particular.” Meanwhile, 4.7 percent identify as an “other” religion, including 1.7 who are Jewish, .7 who are Buddhist, .6 who are Muslin, and .4 who are Hindu. Despite the legal separation of church and state, religious beliefs have crept into political campaigns recently, so it’s only fair that religious representation is as diverse in office as it is across the country.
Then there’s the first female combat veterans elected to Congress – Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and Tulsi Gabbard (yep, the same Democrat from Hawaii!). Hopefully that might lead to some changes in legislation for female soldiers. Within the last few weeks, several news items surrounding women in the military have surfaced. A study by Department of Veterans Affairs found that sexual assault of military women while in a war zone is common, with nearly 50 percent of women deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan reporting sexual harassed, and one-quarter saying they were sexually assaulted.
Meanwhile, four servicewomen are suing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in an effort to end the policy that excludes women from serving in direct combat. It comes after 28-year-old Army Staff Sgt. Jennifer Hunt was dropped into a raid with teams she hadn’t trained with previously, just so she could search any women and girls the group came across in their missions. She was good enough to be used on a mission, but not to train with the soldiers she was working with.
On a positive note, President Obama just signed a military budget bill that contained a small, but crucial, provision that lifted a ban on giving female military members insurance coverage for abortions in cases of rape and incest. Will Duckworth and Gabbard be able to push for bills like those to expand provisions for military women? Let’s hope so!
What types of things are you interested in seeing the new Congress members cover?
Photo by Kevin H., “U.S. Capitol Building,” 8/17/08. Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License
Written by Crystal Maldonado. Crystal is a content developer and professional blogger by day, and a dog-mom and super-feminist by night. Follow her on Twitter @crysmaldonado.