WASHINGTON — The senior U.S. Senator who, as chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, shepherded the repeal of the military’s ban on openly gay and lesbian service members, has announced that he will retire at the end of this term in 2014.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), a lawyer by training and a former Detroit City Councilman who first entered the Senate in 1979, has been a significant force for progressives on Capitol Hill.
Levin, 78, made his announcement Thursday, ending months of speculation on whether he would seek re-election.
“I can best serve my state and my nation by concentrating in the next two years on the challenging issues before us … in other words, by doing my job without the distraction of campaigning for re-election,” he said, in a statement.
Levin said he wanted to concentrate on passing laws that target off shore tax avoidance schemes, and that he would continue to fight hard to ensure military readiness despite the fiscal pressures being felt by the Pentagon.
On LGBT legislation, Levin is a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) — ENDA would prohibit workplace discrimination against gays, and SNDA would prohibit the bullying and discrimination of LGBT students in schools.Although Levin had voted to pass the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996, he later voted against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.
He is now a co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act (RFMA), a bill that would repeal DOMA and require the federal government to recognize the validity of same-sex marriages.
Levin also supported the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd Hate Crimes Act, and voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Levin, the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Michigan’s history, is the sixth member of the Senate to announce his retirement, creating an open seat for Democrats in a state that has backed President Barack Obama twice but where Republicans hold the governor’s office.
Democrats, who control 55 seats in the Senate, have to defend open seats in West Virginia, Iowa and New Jersey in the aftermath of three other retirements and will try to hold onto 21 seats in next year’s elections.