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New Secretary of Interior nominee pro-gay
by Lisa Keen, Keen News Service

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President Obama's new nominee to serve as Secretary of Interior was a staunch supporter of marriage equality in Washington State last year.

Sally Jewell, CEO and President of the outdoor gear giant REI, posted a blog to REI's 11,000 employees last summer, saying that, "the benefits, legal clarity and societal understanding that [my husband] Warren and I have enjoyed these past 34 years should be available to any two people who want to express their love and make a permanent commitment to each other that is so clearly provided for in the legal definition of marriage."

Jewell's post also spoke of her experience watching gay colleagues early in her career struggle with "seemingly simple questions about relationships, children, or even weekend activities" because such questions "could become delicate and difficult to answer, because being 'out' was dangerous to one's career."

And Jewell was among the major business leaders to sign onto a Human Rights Campaign ad urging voters to approve marriage equality in Washington State last November.

The activities of the Interior Department, which manages the nation's natural resources and parks, has had gay-related controversies in the past. Most of those have occurred in the department's National Park Service, which is responsible for issuing permits for demonstrations and political marches on federal grounds.

Under President Clinton's Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation organizers were initially denied a permit for their event, then later required to put of $300,000 in advance to make repairs to the National Mall grass, prior to the event. It was the first time any national demonstration on the Mall had been required to do so.

Gay Democratic activist David Mixner contacted Clinton senior adviser Rahm Emanuel, now mayor of Chicago, for help. Mixner said Emanuel suggested 'some of your rich boys' in the movement should be tapped to pay for the grass. Mixner said he told Emanuel he didn't think the movement should have to put up 'that kind of money simply to exercise our right to petition our government' but that is what ultimately happened.

The Park Service also came under criticism by many for seeming to low-ball its official estimate of how many people attended various gay marches. The controversies led the Park Service to end its practice of providing official headcounts after the 1993 march.

In 2009, when President Obama was choosing his initial cabinet for his first term, many LGBT leaders urged he appoint John Berry, an openly gay man who headed up the National Zoo. Berry had served as assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Interior Department under President Clinton. He has also served as head of the Congressionally sanctioned the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Instead, President Obama selected Berry to serve in a sub-cabinet but significant position, as director of the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees all federal employees.

© copyright 2013 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.

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