U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin says gay men should be able to give blood, just like anyone else. Baldwin has joined 83 other Senate and House Democrats in urging U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to end the ban that prevents homosexuals from giving blood, saying it’s outdated and discriminatory. The ban was adopted in the 1980s when AIDS was widespread, and gay men had higher infection rates.

The letter from Democrats said the ban on blood donations from gays is “an atmosphere that promotes discrimination.” Baldwin — the nation’s first openly gay U.S. senator — says a lot has changed since the 1980s, including dramatic improvements in blood screening, and doctors now have a better understanding of the HIV virus.

The American Medical Association has joined Baldwin and other Democrats in opposing the ban. They say blood donors should be determined by health factors, and not their sexual orientation.

AIDS can also be spread by blood transfusions, and for that reason, the National Hemophilia Foundation says it’s too soon to lift the ban on gay blood donors. Foundation vice president John Indence said the science behind any change needs to be sound.

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