8 Politicians Who Defy Expectations About Love and Relationships
With the 2020 campaign season in full swing and Valentine’s Day right here, some presidential candidates are also shattering stereotypes as they defy the traditional, gendered expectations about love, marriage, and relationships that are often rigidly imposed on politicians.
On top of their ambitious platforms, fiery rhetoric, and diverse experiences, some of the 2020 frontrunners vying for the presidency have home and family situations that sharply break with narrow, archaic expectations of the American first family. And they’re hardly the only influential US politicians whose private lives subvert the narrow notions of what love and family should like for powerful people.
Here are some of the leading US politicians who are trailblazers in their personal lives, too.
Cory Booker: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker launched Black History Month with the exciting news that he would run for president. If elected, Booker would become the nation’s second Black president — and, surprisingly, only the third unmarried head of state in US history. (Grover Cleveland eventually married in office, while James Buchanan's lifelong bachelor status fueled gossip and speculation about his sexual orientation that persists to this day.)
Booker recently made headlines by confirming that he has a girlfriend. The tabloid reaction his admission inspired, while generally good-natured, also goes to show how traditional standards for presidential personal lives potentially create needless distractions for the public, and unfair obstacles for candidates.
Booker’s bachelor status could certainly change in the next two years, as the relationship sounds serious based on what the senator said to Charlamagne tha God in a radio show interview last week. But if Booker does wind up as America’s third bachelor president in history, it could send a refreshing message that no one needs a spouse to be complete or powerful. (Photo via Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Kamala Harris: With the eyes of the nation on California Senator Kamala Harris following an explosive presidential campaign announcement and a series of equally memorable appearances, Harris has made it clear that she, her husband, and their family are in this together.
Harris married her husband, attorney and burgeoning Twitter star Doug Emhoff, in 2014, when she was 50 years old. Harris had not married or had children prior to her marriage to Emhoff, a trajectory of timing that goes against expectations of what a presidential personal life should entail. But as a powerful woman, her later marriage and lack of biological children carry even greater implications, sending an affirming message that women’s value and success in this country should no longer be bound to the chronological milestones of an early marriage followed by the carrying, birthing, and rearing of children.
When Harris talks about the importance of her family, she's talking about a group that includes her husband, two stepchildren, her sister, Maya Harris — an MSNBC commentator and attorney — and her niece, Meena, an activist, lawyer, and founder of the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign. (Photo via Chip Somodevila/Getty Images)
Kirsten Gillibrand and Tammy Duckworth: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand are two of the US Senate’s most outspoken advocates for paid family leave, which is hardly a surprise considering their own experiences. In 2018, Duckworth became the first sitting senator in US history to become pregnant and give birth, while Gillibrand gave birth to her second son in 2008, while she was a member of the US House of Representatives. Duckworth was 50 years old when she gave birth, and Gillibrand was 42 years old.
Neither Duckworth nor Gillibrand allowed pregnancy, birth, or motherhood to stop them from casting votes and showing up to work. Since giving birth, they’ve drawn on their experiences to testify about the importance of paid family leave to ensure working parents with less resources than US Congress members have the support they need.
Also noteworthy is that Duckworth and Gillibrand both gave birth a bit later in life while simultaneously serving in Congress, which reminds us all that there is no right or wrong answer about when to have children. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Kyrsten Sinema: This January, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who identifies as bisexual, became the second openly LGBTQ+-identifying US Senator, following Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who identifies as lesbian. Sinema was married for a time in college, but has remained unmarried since the couple divorced. She has no children.
Sinema's status as a single LGBTQ+ member of Congress is in sharp contrast with the traditional image of the straight, white, male politician with kids and a wife at home. This stereotype has long been the template for how a politician’s personal life should look, and it’s one that politicians like Sinema are now offering an inclusive alternative to. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for Ironman)
Pete Buttigieg: Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg is running a fairly quiet campaign that has yet to draw much media attention. Buttigieg’s chances at winning the party nomination seem like a long-shot right now, but if he were to win it all, he would bring critically important diversity to the nation's top office as the first openly gay president married to a man. (Photo via Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Katie Porter: Katie Porter was elected to serve California’s 45th Congressional District on a platform of progressive economic policies and environmental protection. She won her race in November 2018 while running as a single mother of young children, ages seven, 10, and 12. Her experience, along with those of fellow female Congress members with young kids at home, has helped open a dialogue about the disparate challenges mothers face in Congress, from navigating the costs of child care near Capitol Hill to negotiating a healthy work-life balance without the support of a stay-at-home parent.
In addition to being a single mother of young children, Porter has also discussed surviving an abusive marriage. As an elected official with firsthand experiences with intimate partner violence, Porter represents a sizable population of survivors who have long been marginalized. (Photo via Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Dana Nessel: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was one of hundreds of women elected to public office in November, and is also Michigan’s first, openly gay statewide elected official. Nessel, who famously joked about her lack of male anatomy as a selling point on the campaign trail, celebrated her victory on election night by sharing a romantic kiss with her wife before a cheering crowd, while their young son looked on.
Nessel preceded the public kiss with a clear message to her homophobic critics. “For all of you out there that can’t handle the fact that I’m about to become the first openly gay person to hold statewide office...” she said, before embracing her wife. (Photo via Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)