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EEOC Nominee Pushes Cultural Envelope

WASHINGTON -- When you elect a president, you're not just electing a person. In essence, you're allowing that person to nominate those in important government positions.

Enter Chai Feldblum, the president's pick to be a member of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC focuses on discrimination in the workplace, including potential discrimination against sexual minorities.

Supporters say Feldblum is one of the most respected lawyers around.

"She is full of integrity. She has a fantastic sense of humor and she is one of the brightest people I've ever worked with and that I've known," said The Center for American Progress' Winnie Stachelberg.

Opponents: Feldblum a Left-Wing Radical

Feldblum's opponents paint a different picture. They say she's as radical as you get. They point to comments she made at a University of California at Los Angeles conference.

"Gay sex is morally good," she said in comments posted on the Internet Web site YouTube. "Now you may think that might be a little crazy to go out there and say gay sex is good, but think a second. Society definitely believes that heterosexual sex is good."

Feldblum is well-known in gay circles. She has worked the Human Rights Campaign, a gay activist group and was a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun who wrote the court's opinion on Roe v. Wade. She's the principal author and negotiator for the Americans with Disabilities Act and she's negotiated and drafted provisions for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Her work on adding language to protect those of a different sexual orientation into ENDA is significant considering that Feldblum could be a member of the EEOC -- which will be the agency responsible for issuing the regulations that will enforce ENDA if and when it becomes law.

"She comes at this as a sort of lesbian Katie Couric. Perky, disarming, so she continues to push the envelope," Andrea Lafferty, with the Conservative Traditional Values Coalition, explained. Lafferty has been tracking Feldblum's career for years.

Sexual vs. Religious Liberty

What is sure to come up at her confirmation hearing will be a Feldblum quote from 2006 on sexual versus religious liberty.

"Sexual liberty should win in most cases," Feldblum once wrote. "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win because that's the only way that the dignity of gay people can be affirmed in any realistic manner. I'm having a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win."

"Her number one goal is for sexual orientation to trump religious liberties in all aspects of American life," Lafferty told CBN News.

Feldblum has also shown a sympathetic side. She has written compassionately about religious believers who are troubled by the social gains made by gays and other sexual minorities.

She once wrote, "Failure to acknowledge such a burden on religious beliefs seems, to me, to be deeply disrespectful of religious people. And sometimes, complying with a law designed to establish non-discrimination for one group of people may force a religious person to act in a way contrary to those beliefs. When that happens, the religious person's practice of religion is necessarily burdened."

But Feldblum did go on to say that, "in most cases, not allowing an exemption to individual religious people will be necessary to achieving this compelling goal of non-discrimination."

Willing to Discuss Issues

While Feldblum is a noted gay activist, she has been willing to talk with those who don't agree with her.

She appeared at a recent event held by the Conservative Family Research Council. She told the audience, "We have similar liberty interests going on here and that gay people should understand religious people and religious people should understand gay people more than they do now."

Supporters say it's this type of critical thinking that makes her an asset for the EEOC.

"She doesn't approach a problem with one solution or with a set of information or answers from one perspective, but I think she looks at things from a holistic perspective," Stachelberg said.

"She was able to bring Sen. Hatch, Sen. Kennedy and President Clinton, the religious community, and the business community together on crafting a piece of legislation that protected people's religious freedom and their workplace freedom. And so I think she will be able to answer those questions when the time comes," he noted.

Marriage 'Not the Best'

Feldblum may also need to provide answers on the issue of marriage.

In a paper entitled "Gay is Good," she is quoted as saying:

"I, for one, am not sure whether marriage is a normatively good institution. I have moved away from the belief that marriage is clearly the best normative way to structure intimate relationships, such that government should be actively supporting this social arrangement above all others."

She also signed a 2006 marriage manifesto that states: "to have our government define as 'legitimate families' only those households with couples in conjugal relationships does a tremendous disservice to the many other ways in which people actually construct their families. For example, who among us seriously will argue that the following kinds of households are less socially, economically, and spiritually worthy?"

"Committed, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner," she continued. "Queer couples who decide to jointly create and raise a child with another queer person or couple, in two households."

Critics say the words in that document show that Feldblum believes in pushing the sexual liberals' agenda far beyond just gay marriage, even beyond polygamy.

"That doesn't mean just polygamy. That means multiple people living together engaged in sexual, you know, two men and a woman, three women. It's kind of anything goes," Lafferty said.

Feldblum's supporters say that's just not so.

"She's rejected any notion that she has supported polygamy. She's for monogamous marriage," Stachelberg said.

Will Her Nomination Be Blocked?

It's unclear whether any senators will try and block her nomination. It's too early to tell, but Feldblum will be ready to defend herself.

"There will probably be some senators who are more interested in scoring political potshots and scoring points back at home with a constituency that I think is marginalized, and they will probably attack her in some of the ways we can anticipate," Stachelberg explained.

The White House isn't commenting on Feldblum, but conservative groups say they're armed with ammunition and are ready for a culture war battle.

Feldblum has acknowledged a war for equal rights.

At a past UCLA conference she said, "So here's my bottom line: there is a war that needs to be fought and it's not a war overseas where we're killing people in the name of liberating them. It is a war right here at home where we need to convince people that morality demands full equality for gay people."

*Originally published October 23, 2009.