Sen. Sanders strongly believes the constitutional rights and guarantees that make this country great need not be sacrificed in the name of security. Before being sworn in as a U.S. Senator 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. In the Senate, Sanders has continued to focus on these and other important civil liberty issues, including reining in the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, restoring habeas corpus rights, controlling the use of wide-sweeping presidential signing statements and putting an end to torture. He has introduced S. 1168, the “Restore Our Privacy Act,” to amend the PATRIOT Act to curtail overly broad surveillance by the government.
Sen. 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 their male counterparts, 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 cosponsored and voted for the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require employers to prove that discrepancies in pay are based on qualifications, not on gender. Sen. Sanders was also a strong supporter of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure 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.
Sen. 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.
Sen. 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; he also voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996. In 2010, Sen. Sanders proudly voted to overturn "Don't Ask Don't Tell."
Sen. Sanders welcomed the Supreme Court decision in 2013 that declared part of DOMA unconstitutional. He supports overturning the rest of DOMA in order to require states without same-sex marriage to recognize the validity of marriages performed in states where the partnership is legal. As the Chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Sanders also supports legislation changing the definition of marriage for veterans, so that all veterans and their spouses are able to receive of the benefits they have earned by serving our country.