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Why in the World is Giannoulias Announcing Gay Benefits Now?

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Why in the World is Giannoulias Announcing Gay Benefits Now?
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Politics is all about timing. Like, when’s the best time to extend family leave benefits to your gay employees? When you first take office, or when you’re on the offensive against a rival Senate candidate who has just earned the enmity of the gay community?

Just weeks after Mark Kirk voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Alexi Giannoulias went into work on Sunday to sign an executive order extending benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act to gay employees in committed relationships. Now, they’ll be able to take up to twelve weeks off to care for a sick partner, parent or child. It’s all over the Monday papers.

If Giannoulias has already established himself as the Straight Avenger in this race, why the need for a big show? Because he’s not just competing for the gay vote. He’s also competing for the anti-anti-gay vote: heterosexual, middle-of-the-road voters who have gay friends, gay neighbors or gay relatives. They may not share Giannoulias’s liberal economic views, but they appreciate politicians who treat gays as human beings.

Giannoulias has been receiving national attention for his support of gay issues. The Stonewall Democrats, a gay political advocacy group, has placed him on a list of “30 pro-equality federal candidates deserving of our support.” Visitors to electequality.org are asked to vote for 10 gay-friendly politicans. The Stonewall Democrats will dispatch organizers to the winning candidates’ states “to engage LGBT and allied voters in areas where our key races are taking place.”

Mark Kirk’s spokeswoman points out that he has voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill which would protect gay and lesbian people from prejudice on the job, but would not require companies to offer them domestic benefits.

“Congressman Kirk ... agrees with President (Barack) Obama that there shouldn't be discrimination in the workplace,” Kirsten Kukowski said.

Unless that workplace is the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Marines. The bill exempts religious organizations, business with fewer than 15 employees, and the military, which means it doesn’t conflict with Kirk’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” vote.

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