Women in the Law

Senator Who Fought for Gay Rights Cites BigLaw Single Life, Fire Island Trips

  • Print.

New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, has earned some new-found respect in her hard-fought battle to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell.

At least one gay-rights advocate had worried early on that Gillibrand was courting gays for political reasons. But the BigLaw lawyer-turned-politician tells the New York Times she had realized from an early age that discrimination against gays was wrong. Her views were reinforced, she says, because of a difference in marriage rates among men and women at the law firm where she put in long hours as an associate.

The firm was Davis Polk & Wardwell. “The straight men found time to date and get married and have kids and went home at six every night,” she explained, “and the only ones left were the women and gay men.”

As a result, she said, she formed friendships with her gay colleagues and vacationed with them on Fire Island and in the Hamptons. “A lot of them are now having children,” she told the Times, “and it never occurred to me that they should not have every benefit that I have.”

According to the Times, Gillibrand has won new admirers because of her work to repeal don’t ask, don’t tell and her backing of a bill providing benefits to 9-11 responders. Appointed to take the place of Hillary Clinton, Gillibrand weathered early criticism, but she has now emerged as an important player in the Senate.

“Once derided as an accidental senator, lampooned for her verbosity and threatened with many challengers who openly doubted her abilities, a succinct, passionate and effective Senator Gillibrand has made her presence felt in the final days of this Congress,” the Times says.

The Senate passed the 9-11 health bill on Wednesday, the New York Times reports in a separate story. President Obama signed the bill repealing the ban on military service by openly gay men and women on the same day, according to a third New York Times story.

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.