Scott Brown wins Massachusetts Senate seat: what does that mean?
This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin
January 19th, 2010
A month ago it was all but certain that Martha Coakley would be the successor to the US Senator from Massachusetts seat that had been held by Teddy Kennedy for four decades. And the Whitehouse, along with congressional leadership made a decision that now seems foolhardy and arrogant: they assumed that they would have a filibuster-proof majority for another year.
So they made the strategic decision to freeze out Republican involvement in running the government, most specifically in reforming healthcare. Choosing to have this reform be the centerpiece of the Party’s image for the next decade, they excluded Republicans from the talk, instead negotiating among Democrats behind closed doors.
Today this looks to have been a major mistake. With the election of Scott Brown to the Senate, Republicans now control 41 votes, effectively killing President Obama’s efforts to revise the health industry as he wishes. Scott Brown’s election has put the brakes on what has been a rapid gallop in a new direction, definitely eliminating such possibilities as a “public option”.
What Brown’s election means to the administration is that the honeymoon is over. And the election of a Republican to represent the state of Massachusetts sends a signal that November may be a sad time for Democratic Party leadership.
But what does Brown’s election mean for our community?
Not good, but perhaps not catastrophe.
The irony is that while many progressive gay activists support the “public option” and were hoping that Coakley’s election would allow Democrats to pursue this dream, it may be advantageous to our community that such a provision is no longer likely.
Any movement of health care coverage from private industry to federal oversight could have disastrous impact on the lives of gay men and women. While a great many private companies provide spousal coverage to same-sex partners, such provisions are banned by the Defense of Marriage Act. And as I understand it, the legislation that has been proposed takes little notice that gay people and gay couples exist.
On specific gay issues, Martha Coakley would have been an ardent supporter of our community in the Senate (filling in Kennedy’s shoes). I think, however, there are signs that Scott Brown will likely not be an ardent opponent.
Although Brown has recently been cast as “homophobic”, it does not appear that he is comparable to, say, Sam Brownback. Brown is a dedicated enemy to marriage equality but has stated that he supports civil unions. Further, he has commented that in Massachusetts, the decision has already been made.
On a Federal level some have suggested that he would support a Defense of Marriage Act to change the US Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, but that appears to conflict with the following statement on his website:
I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. States should be free to make their own laws in this area, so long as they reflect the people’s will as expressed through them directly, or as expressed through their elected representatives.
And Brown appears to have avoided running an anti-gay campaign.
None of which suggests that he is a friend. The Boston Globe says that he opposes the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (I would welcome a more direct source, which I’m having difficulty finding). He also is credited with opposition to lifting the ban on open service in the military. Also, Brown may feel that he owes much of his success to social conservatives, like National Organization for Marriage, who provided substantial financial and strategic support.
So I think we can safely assume that he will not vote with us on marriage or military issues. But I don’t see him as a likely to seek to attract too much attention by being sharply anti-gay. He does, after all, still have to answer to the voters in Massachusetts who prefer their Republicans to be at least moderately supportive.
I am reasonable hopeful that on such issues as discrimination, immigration, and the like we have a decent chance at competing for Scott Brown’s vote. Perhaps now is a good time to try think about building bridges to the Senate’s newest member.