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In Illinois Senate race, a battle over who has better gay rights record

By Curtis Tate, McClatchy Washington Bureau

While states such as Georgia and North Carolina are split over discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, the major-party candidates to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate are fighting it out over who has the most pro-LGBT record.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Mark Kirk is up for re-election for President Barack Obama’s old seat in the president’s home state. Kirk, one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans, has staked out moderate positions on a variety of issues, including LGBT rights.

Earlier this month, he won the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s most prominent gay rights organizations.

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But some LGBT activists are upset that the group endorsed Kirk over Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat who has a perfect 100 score from the same group. Kirk has a 78.

Duckworth’s supporters also note that Kirk’s seat is key to Democrats’ efforts to regain a Senate majority. Under Republican leadership, they argue, a bill that would federalize anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Americans isn’t likely to get a vote, even with Kirk’s support.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has a zero score from the group.

According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, Kirk’s seat is one of six Republicans hold in the Senate rated as “toss-ups.” Democrats need only five seats to regain the majority.

In January, Kirk became the first Senate Republican to co-sponsor the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations.

In a statement, Kevin Artl, a campaign spokesman, said Kirk was honored to receive the endorsement.

“As the first Republican senator to co-sponsor the Equality Act, Senator Kirk has tirelessly worked for equality in the Senate and firmly believes that life comes down to who you love and who loves you back and the government has no place in the middle,” Artl said.

Duckworth is an original co-sponsor of the House of Representatives version of the Equality Act. In a statement, Matt McGrath, a campaign spokesman, said Duckworth was proud of her record.

“She has worked to strengthen LGBT protections for both students and federal workers because it’s the right thing to do, not to earn endorsements,” McGrath said. “As senator, Tammy will continue to serve as a leader for equality to ensure basic civil rights for LGBT Americans at home, school and the workplace.”

Fourteen states, including Illinois, have similar anti-discrimination laws that cover gay and transgender people. Other states lack protections for transgender people, or they cover employment discrimination but not education or public accommodations.

“Discrimination on the basis of being gay is against the law in Illinois and should be against the law nationwide,” Kirk said in a statement.

Kirk was one of two Illinois Republicans to get backing from the Human Rights Campaign.

The other was Rep. Bob Dold, a moderate whose district stretches from Chicago’s northern suburbs to the Wisconsin border. Dold is the only Republican co-sponsor of the House version of the Equality Act.

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(c)2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

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