Gay Marriage a Flash Point in Presidential Elections
With the 2012 presidential election just weeks away, LGBT people have mobilized their support to President Barack Obama after his dramatic May endorsement of marriage equality. The Democratic Party is following in lockstep with a platform that states unequivocally support.
On the other side of the aisle, some believe that a Republican White House does not spell disaster for the gay community. They cite these reasons: Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will not reverse the end of the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, the lifting of the HIV travel ban or granting of partner hospital visitation rights.
But many, many others are gung-ho to give our sitting president a second term or fear losing the gains we have made, including the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), state-by-state marriage equality, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin probably speaks for the vast majority of LGBT voters when he said, "Ryan’s record of voting against fairness, dignity and equality is out of touch with the majority of Americans and a fast-growing majority of Republicans. LGBT Americans need leadership that will continue to fight for their rights to protect their families, marry the person they love and enjoy equal protections under the law."
Griffin added that, despite Romney’s term as governor of Massachusetts, during which the Bay State became the first to legalize same-sex marriage, his record is no better than Ryan’s abysmal one on matters of LGBT equality.
Gay activists are ecstatic about the Democrats’ ringing endorsement of marriage equality in the platform that was adopted at the national convention in Charlotte, N.C. "This is very significant, because it’s the first time a national political party has endorsed what is our No. One agenda item as a movement," said Richard Socarides, who, as Bill Clinton’s senior adviser on gay issues, knows his way around inside the Beltway.
Mr. Obama will not only work to repeal DOMA, added Stonewall Democrats Executive Director Jeremy David, but will try to get through Congress the proposed Respect for Marriage Act, which would recognize same-sex marriages for federal benefits, regardless of where the couple is living.
"From there, there are 31 state constitutional amendments to overturn, which is going to take awhile without a Supreme Court ruling to overturn them," David added. After DOMA is repealed, it will make its way back down through the court system in a series of rulings invalidating state marriage bans. Or it can take a combined judiciary-legislative track to the same end. "The court track will likely take less time, but if we have to go state by state to overturn marriage amendments, it will take much longer."
For the present, however, David is concentrating on making sure that there is a second Obama Administration. He’s a one-man band, creating text-messaging donation campaigns, counteracting Right Wing rhetoric and getting the public to understand the issues. The Log Cabin Republicans are not making his work any easier, with their claims that a GOP presidency will turn out nearly as well for our side.
For their part, the Log Cabin Republicans, which is considered the "mainstream" LGBT group within what Ronald Reagan called the Republican "big tent," cite examples such as Ryan’s 2007 vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discriminiation Act and Romney’s comments that people should not be judged on their sexual orientation but on their merits.
Ryan’s vote indicated "an opportunity for the Romney-Ryan ticket to assert a position on nonemployment discrimination, which is something that would be well-received among conservative and independent voters," said Log Cabin Republican Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper.
Cooper could not make the same claim about his party platform’s stance on marriage equality, an issue that LCR supports. Romney and Ryan have rejected recognition of any gay unions.
"We advocate for the repeal of DOMA, but the bottom line is that no president will have an impact on the repeal of DOMA," Cooper told EDGE. "It will probably happen in the legal setting" or through an act of Congress. The ideal scenario, according to Cooper, would be legislation that avoided the word "marriage" but provided same-sex couples the same rights. As part of the Log Cabins’ mission, members speak regularly to groups of young conservatives who nevertheless support the freedom to marry.
National Conventions and Local Races
Many LGBT activists are still ginned up from the Democratic National Convention, held in early September. There was a record number of LGBT delegates seated at the convention: 400 by David’s estimate.
For his part, David is now concentrating on state and local races, such as the bid of Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin to become the first openly gay U.S. senator. Another openly gay candidate, Mark Pocan, recent won his primary to take over Baldwin’s seat in Congress. Given that his district is heavily liberal, his primary win all but guarantees victory in November, which means this will be the first time a congressional seat was handed over from one openly gay politician to another.
"The opportunity to have the first openly gay senator is huge," said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund in Washington. "She is in a great position to win this race, and the person running for her congressional seat will likely be the next openly gay member of Congress."
Winning the presidency is important, but winning both houses of Congress is crucial. "We are not going to get anywhere with our agenda if we don’t have a friendly Congress," David said. "A big part of our focus after the convention is turning the House back to Democratic control and keeping control of the Senate."
The Victory Fund supports gay candidates at all levels of government. This year, the fund is backing eight candidates for House and Senate seats. Despite the retirement of Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, Dison said he believes there is a good chance that the number of gays and lesbians in the House will increase.
The Log Cabin Republicans were a presence at their convention in Tampa, Fla. This year, for the first time, Cooper, LCR Program Director Casey Pick, and LCR trustees Kathryn Lehman and James Abbott (an attorney and gay parent featured in a recent Washington Post article), helped draft the national platform. Although the Republican Party rejected all the group’s major proposals, the LCR considered it a victory that the conservative platform did not make any reference to repealing DADT.
But for Democrats like Socarides, a Romney-Ryan victory would mean a giant step backward. Socarides doesn’t see anything in Ryan’s record that suggests he is interested in discussing our issues with us. He views those who believe that because Ryan is young and seems reasonable as misguided at best.
"Ryan has defied expectations; he has very clear anti-gay positions," Socarides said. "We need to take him at his word. We can’t think that because he’s a nice guy, somehow he’s going to get in to the White House and treat us fairly. Maybe they are figuring that this guy is better on gay rights than Sarah Palin - but that’s not saying much."
LCR Sticks to Its Ticket
Despite their oft-stated stances on issues like marriage equality, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed the Ryan-Romney ticket. The group holds out the hope that, if Romney won’t further our marriage-equality agenda, he will at least not overturn those rights already gained. They also point again to Ryan’s vote in support of ENDA.
LCR is engaged in magical thinking, Democrats counter. "I know that Mr. Ryan voted for ENDA in one instance, then later voted against it," Socarides noted. "But everything we know about him suggests he’s as bad - or worse - as Romney on LGBT rights."
Cooper dismissed an allegation circulating in the blogosphere that Ryan won’t again support ENDA as a "ridiculous rumor." A recorded vote is just that, insisted Cooper, who pointed to alleged conversations between the candidate and gay and lesbian friends as proof that he hasn’t turned away from federal employment workplace protections.
More telling for Socarides are Ryan’s two votes to keep DADT as the military status quo. He has also gone on record as supporting a constitutional amendment to codify DOMA as permanent and unwavering.
"In my view, it doesn’t get much worse than that," Socarides said. "What a lot of Republicans are saying now about Romney is that gay rights are not his priority. But what they mean is that his taking away our rights is not his priority. And for me, that’s nothing to be excited about."
While gains like hate crimes legislation and DADT will probably not be repealed, Stonewall Democrats’ David greatly fears executive orders repealing Obama’s lifting of the bans on people with HIV entering the United States and on hospital visitation for same-sex partners, and the ability of a transgendered persons to change the sex on passports would be very much in danger.
"All it takes is the stroke of the pen for a sitting president to eradicate all those," David said. "The Log Cabin Republicans will say that Romney won’t touch that, but he will be beholden to the right wing of the party if he is elected and will have to throw them bones. And his red meat will be to ’smear the queer.’ "
But Cooper pointed out that the process of lifting the HIV travel ban began under President George W. Bush, and that the science supporting it was too obvious for any administration to roll back. He also pointed to nondiscrimination executive orders that Bush signed.
"I imagine, based on what Romney said as governor and on the campaign trail, that this would stay the same," Cooper concluded.
While Socarides is willing to give Mr. Bush credit for the most ambitious international AIDS program under any president, Democrat or Republican, AIDS issues are no longer synonymous with LGBT rights.
"When Democrats are in charge, more often than not we move forward, especially in the last two years, when we moved forward dramatically," Socarides said. "But I don’t think you can make the same case with Republicans. President Obama got off to a very slow start for us, but he has really made up for lost time. So I think the choice is clear. We can continue to move forward, or we can go backward."