ERIE, Pa. (AP) — Former Democratic congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper says her decision to sign a letter asking President Barack Obama to create a religious exemption to a planned executive order about gay and lesbian hiring is being "misinterpreted."
Dahlkemper, who served one term in the U.S. House before losing her first re-election bid in 2010, was elected Erie County executive last year. She has been stung by criticism that she doesn't support gay and lesbian rights since signing the letter, which was sent to the White House on July 1 and publicized the next day.
The letter was signed by faith-based leaders across the country, and urged the president to include a religious exemption when he signs a planned executive order banning any companies or agencies that contract with the government from discriminating against gays and lesbians in hiring, the Erie Times-News (http://bit.ly/U0WIO6 ) reported Wednesday.
Dahlkemper insists she still supports gay rights, and was asked to sign the letter by a member of Obama's 2012 campaign staff.
"I've been on record as being very supportive of the rights of the LGBT community," Dahlkemper told the newspaper. "That's been proven from the legislation I voted for in Congress and the work I'm trying to do as county executive."
Dahlkemper said she views the letter as a "compromise" since Congress has not passed the Employee Non Discrimination Act, which dates to the 1990s. That bill would make it illegal for any business with more than 15 employees to discriminate in hiring based on a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.
The letter seeking the religious exemption said, in part, "it still may not be possible for all sides to reach a consensus on every issue. That is why we are asking that an extension of protection for one group not come at the expense of faith communities whose religious identity and beliefs motivate them to serve those in need."
Dahlkemper said the compromise would protect gay rights while still allowing those with religious objections not to be penalized.
This isn't the first time Dahlkemper, who campaigned for Congress as a socially conservative "blue dog" Democrat, has been criticized in connection with one of Obama's policies.
During her losing 2010 campaign, Dahlkemper was criticized for supporting the president's health care reforms, which some opponents argued would expand abortion funding.
Dahlkemper lost her 3rd Congressional District seat to Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly.