Illinois Sen.-elect Mark Kirk, R-Ill., celebrates as he speaks to his supporters after defeating Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, in Wheeling, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Mark Kirk’s relationship with the gay community may soon get even worse. That’s because Kirk will soon have an opportunity unique in American politics: he’ll be able to cast anti-gay votes in both houses of Congress, during the same year.
In May, Congressman Kirk voted against repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the policy which requires gay and lesbian servicemembers to hide their sexuality or be discharged.
“Congressman Kirk is proud to serve our country in uniform,” spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said. “He supports and abides by the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.”
The repeal passed the House anyway. And now, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says his chamber is planning to vote on the bill during the lame-duck session. A session that will include Sen. Mark Kirk, who will be sworn in Nov. 29.
The gay community was furious about Kirk’s last vote. In an effort to brand the congressman as a hypocrite, the same D.C. blogger who outed Larry Craig and Mark Foley claimed Kirk is gay, too. The Human Rights Campaign, which had endorsed Kirk in previous elections, because he’d voted to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation, switched its support to Alexi Giannoulias.
Since Democrats will hold a 58-42 majority during the lame-duck session, Reid needs two Republican votes to prevent a filibuster. Kirk has a chance to make up for his last vote, and regain his reputation as one of the few pro-gay Republicans in Washington. The Pentagon is expected to release a report on Dec. 1, saying that allowing gays to serve openly will not harm military morale. Kirk could use that as cover for changing his position.
Kirk was a socially liberal congressman when he represented his North Shore district, but swung to the right during the Senate campaign, leading one commentator to call him “an ideological windsock.” The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell vote will be Illinois’s first chance to find out what kind of senator we elected: the independent voice we saw in Congress, or the partisan hack we saw during the campaign.