Monday, July 2, 2007

The Marriage Vows of Presidential Candidates

Political candidates provide journalists, bloggers and other interested parties with a plethora of folder upon which they can speculate [and actually report] under their bylines. The Fire Island News published this blogger's op-ed on how the Presidential candidates stack up on marriage for same-sex couples. It is loosely based on previous articles for EDGE I had written on the same topic. Democratic candidates continue to stake their claim to LGBT voters in the months leading up to the first caucuses and primaries as they seek to sew up various constituencies. This reality should not come as any surprise to observers and pundits alike. The candidates themselves, for the most part, continue to fail to fully explain to their LGBT supporters -- or potential supporters -- why they do not support full marriage for same-sex couples. The majority of LGBT voters are almost certainly not one track voters but one can easily argue they deserve an honest explanation of their positions on marriage and other traditionally LGBT issues.

Another season on beautiful Fire Island has arrived. The Pavilion remains closed but kings and queens in the Grove prepare for their annual Invasion of the Pines – and there so happens to be a presidential campaign already kicked into high gear.
United States Sen. Hillary Clinton, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and more than a dozen other Presidential wannabes on both sides of the aisle have already tossed their names into the race. Political junkies and perhaps journalists, such as yours truly, continue to rejoice in this Presidential smorgasbord even though the first caucuses and primaries are more than six months away. Gays and lesbians are no exception.

Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards announced last month Democratic fundraiser David Mixner and other gay and lesbian operatives and activists had endorsed his campaign. Not to be upstaged by her former Senate colleague, Clinton’s campaign announced days later openly lesbian New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and other community bigwigs had endorsed the former First Lady’s bid for the White House. Gay and lesbian Republicans, for their part, seem drawn to back Giuliani at this very early stage.

Edwards, Clinton and Giuliani all support gay and lesbian rights to a degree. All three, however, fail to support full marriage equality unlike fellow candidates U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich [D-Ohio] and former U.S. Sen. Mike Gravel [D-Alaska]. Gays and lesbians are certainly not one-issue voters. They, like the majority of Americans, concern themselves with the Iraqi quagmire, the environment and the overall incompetence of the current administration in addition to marriage. This political hot potato, however, remains an important issue to which many gay and lesbian voters will pay attention. The obvious question remains why these voters would back a candidate who fails to support full marriage equality for same-sex couples.

American politics remains a highly cynical blood sport but there are some politicians who actually keep their promises to their supporters. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer introduced a marriage equality bill in Albany late last month after he promised gay and lesbian supporters and advocacy organizations he would during last year’s campaign. New Hampshire and New Jersey lawmakers made a significant step towards full marriage equality in recent months with the passage of civil union bills in their states.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback [R-Kansas], former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, among others, have predictably begun to use these advances to attempt to rally their socially conservative base to strengthen their own Presidential aspirations. President George W. Bush himself successfully used this divisive tactic to rally his base during his re-election campaign in 2004. He tried to use it again last summer with his public support of the Federal Marriage Amendment but it was nothing more than a smokescreen to deflect attention away from his own administration’s failure. The majority of voters rejected this tactic and delivered the GOP a stinging defeat less than six months later.

Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon told this writer in a May interview the GOP must reject divisive politics if they have any hope to maintain control of the White House. Democrats largely opposed the FMA but their party assumes gays and lesbians are a natural part of their constituency. Many, including some Fire Islanders, continue to raise money for and work on behalf of Democratic candidates on the local, regional and national stage. But these supporters must not give Democrats a ‘blank check’ on the issue of marriage.

New York gay media reported extensively on the controversy sparked last year after a leaked memo from Empire State Pride Agenda Executive Director Alan Van Capelle suggested his board should not donate to Clinton’s re-election campaign because she was ‘a complete disappointment’ on marriage equality. Equality California last November refused to support U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election campaign because she did not support full marriage for her gay and lesbian constituents. These two examples certainly challenged the status quo. The movement often fails to call out candidates who fail to support full gay and lesbian equality despite their claims to the contrary.

But the candidates themselves need to come clean to their gay and lesbian supporters despite the movement’s own political agenda. They too often rely upon slick sound bites, carefully crafted messages and self-serving campaign appearances in the Pines and elsewhere to create the illusion of support. Party operatives soak them up but a same-sex couple who wants to marry on Fire Island, for example, deserve to know why a candidate does not support their right to marry or supports the FMA and other discriminatory legislation. This direct accountability remains all too rare and gay and lesbian supporters who fail to ask candidates to explain their positions become nothing more than a lucrative fundraising rolodex.

The political season has certainly arrived with a bumper croup of candidates who all want to become the next President. Gay and lesbian voters on Fire Island and elsewhere have a crucial role to play in the election’s eventual outcome. But they need to hold the candidates to account on marriage if they hope to maintain their seat at the political table.

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