Washington Blade

Friday, December 21, 2007

Hillary for president
Gay voters are right to feel reluctant about Clinton’s bid, but she represents best chance to rid White House of GOP’s anti-gay agenda


ANY GAY VOTERS, this one included, are reluctant to trust Bill and Hillary Clinton’s promises on our issues after the euphoria of 1993 turned into the crushing disappointments of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.

After courting the gay vote back then, Bill Clinton embraced a disastrous policy that has led to the expulsion of 12,000 service members at a time when the military needs all the help it can get. The U.S. military is kicking out brave, competent service members, including dozens of desperately needed Arabic-speaking linguists, solely because they are gay. The military’s gay ban amounts to un-American overt discrimination — a fact apparent to any rational, fair-minded person.

Bill’s transgressions didn’t end there. He signed DOMA and cynically bragged about it in ads that aired on Christian radio stations during his 1996 re-election campaign. More recently, he reportedly urged Sen. John Kerry to support state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage during the 2004 race.

Publicly, we are told that this is not Bill’s campaign for a third term; rather it’s Hillary’s opportunity to shine on her own. But no one is that naïve. Make no mistake that voters will again get a two-fer if Hillary wins.

Despite this complicated history, Hillary Clinton, and most of her Democratic rivals, deserve much credit for evolving quickly on gay rights issues. Just four years ago, Kerry endorsed same-sex marriage bans. Today, all the Democratic candidates have backed some form of relationship recognition for gay couples. Former Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Bill Richardson favor repealing all of DOMA, while Clinton has taken the more cautious approach of advocating a repeal only of Section 3, which defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and woman. That section prevents same-sex couples who are married or have entered into civil unions from accessing the many federal benefits of marriage. Advocating for its repeal marks major progress for a leading presidential candidate.

On many other high-profile gay issues, there’s not much to distinguish the Democratic contenders. They all support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a gay-inclusive hate crimes law and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

SO, THEN, WHY Hillary? Her chief rival, Obama, has disappointed in the debates, appearing to lack confidence and talking mostly in generalities. George W. Bush has certainly lowered the bar when it comes to expecting experience in our presidential candidates, but Obama was an Illinois state senator just three years ago. Obama’s speeches are often inspirational and he has bravely stood up to homophobic black ministers and advocated for equal treatment of gays. He’s certainly earned his considerable gay support. But the world is a complicated mess: warring religious factions in the Middle East, rising anti-American sentiment around the globe, the dollar in a free-fall. Electing a president with virtually zero experience on the world stage would be a mistake.

By contrast, Clinton has demonstrated a mastery of detail during the campaign. Whatever you think of her, there’s no denying her intellect and willingness to work hard. She knows the issues, the history and players and has repeatedly pledged to work to restore the country’s reputation around the world. That’s a much-needed common sense perspective on where to start in 2009. And with an eight-year record of extensive globetrotting as first lady, she’s well positioned to serve as the diplomat the country needs.

For those who doubt her ability to win over moderate and conservative voters, look at what she accomplished in upstate New York, where she carried “red” counties in a landslide Senate re-election victory. I’ve interviewed elected officials, including conservative Republicans, from those areas and they agree that Clinton is a hard-working and accessible leader with a focus on constituent service. In addition, she worked from day one in the Senate to cultivate relationships with even her most conservative Republican colleagues.

She has promised that gay Americans will have an “open door” to her White House, a welcome change from the non-stop demonizing of gays under Bush.

THE DEMOCRATS RIGHTLY won praise for including a forum on gay issues in the primary campaign season. The leading Republican candidates wouldn’t even attend a debate on black issues, let alone gay ones. The GOP, by continuing to align itself with evangelical Christian extremists, has clearly not learned anything from the failed Bush era. Its standard bearers appear increasingly out of touch — from Mike Huckabee’s shockingly ignorant remarks about “isolating” AIDS patients to Rudy Giuliani’s suddenly nuanced positions on gay rights.

Gay Americans cannot afford another four years of a Republican administration in the White House. Attacking gays and opposing even the most benign forms of incremental rights advances is now part of the GOP playbook, no matter the nominee. Bush has helped block ENDA and the hate crimes bill via veto threats. He has attacked our relationships in his State of the Union address, cruelly pushing for a federal ban on same-sex marriage. He — along with all the Republican candidates for president — supports the antiquated and reckless “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Many supporters of independent candidates argue that there is no longer a difference between the Democratic and Republican parties. But on gay issues, that is simply not the case.

As gay Rep. Barney Frank told the Blade last summer, “all the Democrats are very good and all the Republicans are very terrible.” For sure, gay Americans will be vastly better served by any of the Democrats now in the running than any of the Republicans.

But in the end, Hillary Rodham Clinton stands the best chance of sending the Republicans into eight years of a well-deserved political wilderness. She’s smart, tenacious, hard working and willing to cede the spotlight in the interest of bipartisan cooperation. She has marched in our Pride parades, promised unprecedented access to her administration and backed nearly all of our issues.

Clinton has earned the support of gay voters in 2008.

© 2007 Washington Blade, A Window Media LLC Publication.  Reprinted by permission (Kevin Naff Dec. 24, 2007 e-mail).