Tuesday was Super Duper for Gay Americans
February 6th, 2008
At the conclusion of “America’s Primary”, the presidential primaries remain exciting. Senators Clinton and Obama are very close in delegate count and no one can know for certain whom will bear the Democrat banner.
Senator McCain is significantly ahead in delegate count and barring some unexpected event is likely to be the nominee. While there is still some life in the Republican primary and peculiar things do happen in politics, at the moment we will assume that McCain will be running against either Senator Clinton or Senator Obama.
But what does that mean to gay Americans?
Quite a bit, actually. Below I will explore where the candidates stand on a few issues that are of particular importance to our community.
None of the three support marriage equality. Yet none of the three candidates are in favor of a constitutional amendment barring states from instituting or recognizing marriage between gay couples.
Interestingly, John McCain may have the most invested in opposing such an amendment. Citing his federalist ideals, McCain argued passionately on the floor of the Senate against the passage of the amendment.
However, this does not mean that McCain is in favor of gay marriage. Although he has expressed in the past that he is in favor of some recognition of gay couples, he campaigned for a constitutional amendment banning both marriage and any other form of recognition in his own state. It lost.
But in any case, with McCain as the Republican nominee, this election cycle is unlikely to have banning gay marriage as any central theme.
It is uncertain to what extent any candidate would champion rights for gay couples.
Both Senators Clinton and Obama have expressed approval of overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), or at least that portion of it that defines federal recognition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman.
Senator McCain is very much in favor of that part of DOMA that releases states from recognizing gay marriages performed in other states. Senator Clinton also seems to favor keeping that restriction in place. From a pragmatic point of view, I too want this upheld for some time as I think that without it a federal marriage ban would have much more support.
There is some question as to whether McCain could support the federal recognition of marriage as defined by the various states (overturning that half of DOMA), especially those which do so by means of positive legislative action. His federalist philosophy may well override his personal affinity to an opposite sex definition of marriage if the appropriate argument was presented.
Ultimately, the decision to overturn DOMA is up to Congress. And while a vote for Clinton or Obama could be argued to be a mandate to overturn the bill, a McCain election would probably not be construed to be a mandate to keep it in place.
The most significant impact that the new President will have on the lives of gay persons in relationships will be on appointments to Department heads. On that level, it is likely that gay couples will fare better overall under Democrats than Republicans. However, it is also likely that McCain’s appointments will be far more centrist and moderate than those of some other Republicans.
Both Clinton and Obama back non-discrimination in housing and employment.
It appears that McCain does not favor ENDA. It is unknown whether his opposition rises to the level of a veto should Congress pass the legislation.
Both Clinton and Obama have expressed interest in overturning DADT.
McCain has hedged his bets a bit. He claims that senior military officers claim that the policy is working. This leaves him open to change in policy should “senior military officers” tell him that the policy is no longer a necessity.
This is a subject that is raised as being of paramount importance for the advancement of any faction’s social agenda. But it is also the least easy to predict.
Conservative Republicans have nominated judges for the bench, and even the Supreme Court that have championed causes that conservatives find abhorrent. And Democrats have appointed judges whose decisions were decidedly conservative.
Ironically, many of the decisions decried as the actions of “liberal activist judges” were made by conservative judges taking positions that were strictly constructed rather than simply parroting the platitudes of their political friends. It is my personal opinion that those judges who are most exact in their interpretation of law will eventually be those judges that establish equality for gay persons – and on such terms that their decisions will be difficult to fault. Equality under the law is, at its heart, a conservative ideal.
We can assume that to some extent Democrats will appoint judges that are somewhat more approachable on gay issues than will a Republican. But McCain is no usual Republican when it comes to judicial appointments.
In 2005, Senator McCain was part of the “gang of 14”, a group of moderate Senators of both parties that stood in the way of filibuster efforts to force controversial and highly partisan judges through approval. While McCain has promised to appoint “strict constructionist judges”, it is unlikely that he would make appointments based on partisan ideals or conservative ideology that did not have bipartisan respect. An adamantly anti-gay judge is unlikely to make McCain’s list.
Overall Comfort and Access
The candidate with the most comfort and ease with gay people, Rudy Giuliani, has been eliminated from the running. But all of the remaining credible candidates have demonstrated that they are more-or-less approachable to our community.
Hillary Clinton will probably continue in the vein of her husband and her Senate career. She will probably not be closely aligned to our community and will likely place us lower in priority if she needs to broker a deal, but she has been known to have some gay friends – at least in the past. She is likely to give access to gay groups and perhaps appoint a gay liaison.
Barack Obama is more difficult to measure. His religious community has a strong social justice history and is officially favorable to gay equality. But his campaign has shown insensitivity to the community by pushing forward some within the black community that have a history of homophobia and support for the ex-gay movement. However, he has strong gay support and has spoken out against homophobia. It is likely that Obama will provide access to gay groups.
John McCain is a social conservative, but this seems to be tempered by a federalist streak. Further, I have watched McCain for many years and have yet to see an overtly hostile attitude towards gay people. I recall many years ago when Lon Mabon’s anti-gay group, the Oregon Citizen Alliance, invited him to speak, McCain came and gave them a little lecture about being tolerant of others with whom they disagree.
Some have expressed alarm over robo-calls made by McCain’s campaign that discussed “special rights”, but the candidate did pull the calls immediately upon being informed of their content. It’s difficult to know to what extent McCain approved the calls, but the content seemed inconsistent with his history.
The jury is still out on McCain, but I don’t anticipate anti-gay activism to be a part of his campaign or his administration. Further, as the more homophobic elements of the Republican Party have been openly attacking him, McCain may not feel that he owes anything to them if elected. I am cautiously optimistic that McCain would give access and a fair hearing on gay issues.
Gay people should be encouraged with the current state of the elections.
While true gay champions such as Kucinich or Gravel have been eliminated as possible nominees, the two remaining Democrat candidates support gay equality, if to a somewhat lesser degree. While I personally don’t see much conviction in their support, we can be sure that gay people will not be treated with hostility by either administration.
Further, gay people should be overjoyed that Huckabee’s theocratic campaign has been all-but-eliminated from any chance of winning. A Huckabee administration would prioritize anti-gay discrimination as part of a Kingdom of God in America agenda.
In the upcoming national election I anticipate that the differences between the two candidates (whomever they turn out to be) on gay issues will have little resonance or impact on the election. We will not have to spend the rest of the year hearing about how marriage needs to be “protected”. Nor will we hear about “San Francisco Values” or an “attack on the family”.
And I anticipate that the next President, regardless of party, will not be overtly hostile to gay people or gay couples and may indeed be open to arguments about equality under the law.