The Struggle for Equal Rights and Equal Justice

Chris’s leadership on some of the biggest issues of our time — whether it’s protecting voting rights, advancing civil rights, reforming our criminal justice system, or fighting for gender and LGBT equality — stems from a deeply held belief in the values of equal rights and equal justice for all Americans.

The history of our country is the story of the ongoing struggle to achieve the original promise of equal rights and equal justice for all.  That has been the story of the labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBT rights movements. We have made good progress down the path, but have a long journey still ahead to build an ever more perfect union.

Chris has been a warrior for equal rights and equal justice and has proven himself time and again to be an effective and consistent leader in the fight for justice and fairness for all.

GENDER EQUALITY

Chris believes gender equality in the U.S. Constitution is long overdue. He is a leading supporter of legislation to finally pass the Equal Rights Amendment — which fell three states short of ratification in the 1970s.  Fair pay is also a cornerstone of the budget and economic plan Chris has put forward in Congress. He is a leading supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act and will work in the U.S. Senate to strengthen the Equal Pay Act and prohibit gender bias in the workplace. As part of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership team, Chris played a key role in the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which addressed discrimination against women in the health care system, improved access to preventative services, including cancer screenings and birth control, and protected abortion coverage.

VOTING RIGHTS

Chris helped pass the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, and more recently, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s misguided decision to weaken the law’s protections, Chris has been a strong advocate for the Voting Rights Advancement Act to protect access to the voting booth for all Americans.

Chris is also a strong supporter of the Democracy Restoration Act, which would restore the right to vote in federal elections to the nearly 4.5 million Americans who have served their time and been released from prison.

Chris opposes the Republican Party’s discriminatory attempts to disenfranchise millions of Americans – particularly the elderly, minorities, and people with disabilities – by requiring the use of government-issued identification in order to vote. Following the George W. Bush’s controversial election in 2000, when many ballots were thrown out, Chris authored successful legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to ensure that more provisional ballots are counted.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Long before we started the current and long-overdue national conversation about mass incarceration, Chris was fighting for criminal justice reform in our country. Chris believes that to fundamentally reform our criminal justice system, we need to start treating drug addiction as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue, and end harsh penalties for nonviolent offenders by repealing mandatory sentencing requirements.

In the wake of the tragic deaths of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, and so many others, Chris has continued to press for urgent action on criminal justice reform and efforts to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He has written to the Attorney General urging the Department of Justice to support police departments that are more representative of their communities, and he strongly backs legislation to:

 

  • Provide grants for police body cameras
  • Ban racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement
  • Give judges more discretion on sentencing drug offenses
  • Prevent inappropriate transfers of military equipment to local police forces

LGBT EQUALITY

While the Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of the land, there is still work to be done to secure equal rights for all LGBT Americans. As the only Maryland member of the House LGBT Equality Caucus, Chris believes we must pass the Equality Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity once and for all. And he’s won this fight before. Back in 2001, while serving in the State Senate, Chris led the fight to pass the Anti-Discrimination Act, making Maryland one of the earliest states in the country to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

State Senator Rich Madaleno, a longtime LGBT advocate who has worked for years in partnership with Chris to advance equality for Marylanders, puts it this way:

“Chris has consistently shown tremendous political courage and leadership by fighting for us – even when it wasn’t easy or popular.”

FAIRNESS FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Chris has been a leader in the pursuit of civil rights and equal opportunity for persons with disabilities, working to protect the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act and provide tools to support greater independence and self-determination. He was the leading Democrat in the successful fight to pass the ABLE Act, which is now helping persons with disabilities and their families establish tax-free savings accounts to cover the costs of care and provide for their futures. As the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, he has introduced the bipartisan IDEA Full Funding Act to give all children the tools they need to reach their full potential. And he has advocated for fair wages for persons with disabilities.

Chris’s deeply-held belief in the fundamental rights of every individual has meant, over and over throughout his career, that he has stood up and made a difference in the fight for greater equality and the struggle to combat discrimination wherever it’s found — whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. He has received a number of honors for this work, including:

 

  • Courageous Leadership Award – Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards Committee
  • Best Local Elected Official – Bethesda Magazine
  • Best Local Member of Congress – Washingtonian Magazine
  • Legislative Legacy Award – Arc of Maryland
  • Champion of Change – National Down Syndrome Society
  • Advocacy Award – Easter Seals Greater Washington-Baltimore Region Chapter
  • 20th Anniversary Award – SEEC: Seeking Equality, Empowerment, and Community
  • Award of Distinction – Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Jones Award for Exceptional Advocacy – Global Down Syndrome Foundation
  • Jubilee Award – Jubilee Association of Maryland
  • Outstanding Leadership Award – Committee for Religious Freedom in Vietnam
  • LGBT Ally of the Year – Potomac Executive Network
  • Lifetime Achievement Award – Victims’ Rights Foundation
  • Recognition Award – Women’s Suburban Democratic Club
  • Outstanding New Member Award – Voices for National Service