America could finally have its first openly gay federal judge, thanks to President Obama and Senator Schumer

In 2011, it’s shocking that America doesn’t have a single openly gay man on the federal bench. Happily, that may be about to change, as the New York Times reports:

President Obama has nominated a former Clinton administration lawyer to be a federal judge in Manhattan; he could become the first openly gay man to serve on the federal bench in the United States.

The lawyer, J. Paul Oetken, 45, is a senior vice president and associate general counsel of Cablevision.

He is one of two openly gay men whose nominations are pending to the federal courts. The other is Edward C. DuMont, a lawyer who has been nominated to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington.

Mr. Oetken was originally recommended to the White House in September by Senator Charles E. Schumer, who described him as having “sterling legal credentials” and a “distinguished career in private practice and public service.”

His nomination on Wednesday came about a year after Mr. Schumer recommended that the president nominate Daniel S. Alter, a former assistant United States attorney in Manhattan, who is also openly gay, to the same court.

But Mr. Alter was not nominated. He has said he believes it was because of statements attributed to him relating to the use of the term “Merry Christmas” and to the Pledge of Allegiance, which he denied having made.

As the article states, Oetken isn’t the first openly gay nominee for a position of federal judge. He may well be the first to be confirmed and sworn in, however. It’s shocking and sad that we’ve had to wait this long to pick one person from what is no doubt an enormous pool of eminently qualified LGBT attorneys and jurists to serve on the federal bench – and it says something about how much further America still has to go in terms of tolerance and equality. There shouldn’t be a sexuality test to serve in the federal judiciary. The fact that no openly gay nominees have got past the Senate shows that, so far at least, there has been – but at least Chuck Schumer and President Obama seem to be doing something to right that wrong. Baby steps, right?

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