Senator Sanders strongly believes the constitutional rights and guarantees that make this country great need not be sacrificed in the name of security. Prior to entering the U.S. Senate in 2007, Sanders was one of only 66 members in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against the USA Patriot Act. He also introduced the first legislation in the House meant to undo some of the unconstitutional provisions in that bill. He earned the American Library Association's "Politician of the Year" Award for his efforts to protect personal library and book store records and for his introduction of the "Freedom to Read Protection Act." In the Senate, Sanders has continued to focus on these and other important civil liberty issues, including reining in the NSA's warrantless wiretap program, restoring habeas corpus rights, controlling the use of wide-sweeping presidential signing statements and putting an end to torture.
Women's Rights: Senator Sanders supports women in challenging ongoing inequalities in our society. At a time when women make an average of 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, Sanders recognizes the impact pay discrimination has on working families, and has consistently fought to ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. In June 2012, he co-sponsored and voted for the Fair Pay Act, which would require employers to prove that differences in pay are based on qualifications, not on gender. Senator Sanders is also a cosponsor of the Equal Employment Opportunity Restoration Act to restore women's ability to challenge discrimination in the workplace. He also supports efforts to allow additional states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ensure constitutional protections for gender equality.
Sanders was a strong supporter of the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to assure that a woman who has suffered discriminatory pay can sue any time she gets a new paycheck. Formerly, a Supreme Court Ruling held that such a suit is possible only within 180 days of the initial discriminatory pay decision.
Modern-Day Slavery: It is hard for most Americans to believe that slavery is still a reality in America. As a member of the Senate Labor Committee, when Senator Sanders learned that tomato pickers in Immokalee, Fla. were working in conditions that amounted to slavery, he went to see for himself. With the help of Senator Ted Kennedy, he convened a hearing on conditions in Immokalee.
Ensuring prosecution in Florida led to five Floridians being found guilty to enslaving and brutalizing farm workers. Bernie said, "I think most Americans would find it hard to believe that people in our country are pleading guilty to slavery charges in the year 2008, but that is what is going on in the tomato fields of Florida. And, of course, this is not the first case. It is the sixth successful slavery prosecution which has resulted in the freeing of about 1,000 workers.
"While slavery is, of course, the most extreme situation in the tomato fields, the truth is that the average worker there is being ruthlessly exploited. Tomato pickers perform backbreaking work, make very low wages, and have no benefits and virtually no labor protections."
LGBT Rights: Senator Sanders has been a strong supporter of marriage equality for same-sex couples: "I am proud to represent the first state in the country to allow civil unions and the first state where the legislature allowed same-sex marriage without a court order. I am glad that the president is now on board," he said when President Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage rights.
Senator Sanders opposes laws that unfairly prevent same-sex couples from enjoying the rights and benefits that all lawfully married couples deserve. In 1993, then-Rep. Sanders voted in the House against the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy that prevented patriotic gay and lesbian Americans from serving their country unless they kept their sexual orientation a secret. In 2010, Senator Sanders proudly voted to overturn "Don't Ask Don't Tell".
Senator Sanders supports overturning the Defense of Marriage Act in order to allow the federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed in any state. He is also a co-sponsor of a bill that would give federal employees in same-sex domestic partnerships and their partners the same employment benefits now offered to married federal employees and their spouses.
Sanders has joined many of his Senate colleagues in asking the executive branch to provide relief for same-sex couples in which one spouse is not a U.S. citizen by lifting the threat of deportation and allowing them to continue to work legally in this country. He is also working to end discrimination and bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and voted to extend the Violence Against Women Act to provide more protections for members of the LGBT community.