A lesbian employment rights activist is one of three people being considered for the post of Labour Secretary.

Mary Beth Maxwell’s position on the shortlist has excited gay groups; if nominated and confirmed by the Senate she would become the first openly gay person to serve in the US Cabinet.

The other candidates are both female state Governors: Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Ms Maxwell is the founding executive director of American Rights at Work.

Launched in 2003, its mission is to modernise and reform America’s labour laws.

She is a member of Sacred Heart Catholic Parish in Washington, DC, the Human Rights Campaign and the Family Equality Council. Ms Maxwell lives in DC with her 7-year-old son, Coleman Charles.

Earlier this week President-elect Obama, the first African-American elected to the highest office in the US, formally nominated Senator Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State.

Her appointment will need to be confirmed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and she will have to resign her seat in the senior chamber of the US Congress to take up the post.

The wife of former US President Bill Clinton has represented New York in the US Senate since 2001. She fought Obama for the Democratic nomination but lost after a series of tactical blunders let him surge ahead mid-campaign.

If her nomination is confirmed she will be fouth in the line of Presidential Succession behind the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro Tempore of the Senate.

She will be the first former First Lady to hold Cabinet office – Eleanor Roosevelt was appointed as a delegate to the UN by Presidents Truman and Kennedy.