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FARMINGTON HILLS – U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI 14) is ahead in most polls to win the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Carl Levin, a Democratic powerhouse who has held that U.S. Senate seat for 35 years. Peters is running against Republican Terri Lynn Land.
BTL spoke with Peters about his campaign, about why he is such a strong supporter of LGBT rights and about his commitment to LGBT servicemen and women who were dishonorably discharged and his plan to retroactively change their status to honorably discharged.
BTL: Within the Michigan congressional delegation, you and John Conyers are the only ones that have earned 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard. You are also a member of the Congressional LGBT Caucus, a group of 112 House members committed to LGBT equality. This is a long way from 1996, when you voted for the Michigan Marriage Ban as a state senator. Can you talk about your evolution and how you became such a strong LGBT ally?
Peters: I always look back at that vote and regret that I made that vote. I think part of it is the natural evolution of learning more about the issue that then broadened me to become a champion for marriage equality. Initially I was for civil unions, and in fact, I was attacked for that position when I ran for attorney general in 2002. But certainly as long as I’ve been a member of Congress the last six years, I have been fully supportive of marriage equality and a proud member of the LGBT caucus. I believe that people should have equal rights. These are basic human rights that apply to everybody. We need to make sure that the laws follow the basic tenet that we should all have access to the same human rights, regardless of a person’s background – broadly defined.
BTL: Please tell us about where you stand on LGBT rights versus your opponent, Terri Lynn Land. What’s your perception on where she stands and how you differ?
Peters: Well, it’s always hard to know, because she does not talk much about anything. She doesn’t open herself up to any press interviews. She has refused a debate. It’s basically as U.S. News and World Report and other media outlets have said: she is running an invisible campaign and is basically hiding behind millions of dollars of false attack ads, and that’s how she’s trying to get elected. It’s difficult for me to know where she’s coming from and where she is on issues.
But I do know she was a member of the Republican National Committee and supported the RNC platform which called same-sex marriage, I think, an “assault on society.” It’s a very extreme position – very intolerant. And actually, what really spoke volumes was when Dave Agema, her colleague on the RNC, said things that were extremely discriminatory and bigoted regarding the LGBT community; she was silent. She refused to condemn him. And she remained silent and let him continue to make those kinds of statements against the LGBT community. It was only at the very end that she did speak up, and her rationale for doing so was that she thought it was in the best interest of the Republican Party. She didn’t say it was because those were bigoted, hateful comments that have no place in civil discourse; she looked at it strictly as a party person. To me, that is not the type of leadership you want from someone in the U.S. Senate. You want someone who is going to be a leader and represent everybody in the state of Michigan and be an aggressive advocate.
I take great pride that I’ve been in the leadership on issues that are important to the LGBT community. I was very active in the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. I served as a former Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Reserve and served with many men and women who are very patriotic, and I wasn’t concerned with what their sexual orientation was. To me, the most important thing was that they were patriots that wanted to serve their country. So I was very pleased that DADT was repealed.
I also supported the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. I signed the amicus brief to support the overturning of the DOMA, and I am a co-sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and will continue to work on issues that I think are important for us to address as a society. I think my opponent has clearly shown, not only will she not be a leader, but she is opposed to these issues. When push comes to shove, she stays silent.
BTL: You have sponsored and co-sponsored a lot of LGBT positive legislation in your time in Congress. What legislation are you most proud of?
Peters: I would say the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, and that’s because we were successful in something I thought was courageous. Now I am working on legislation that says folks who received dishonorable discharges because of the old policy will be able to go back and change their status to an honorable discharge.
BTL: What would that mean for veterans who were dishonorably discharged under the old policy?
Peters: Tarnishing the records of patriotic veterans I think is unacceptable. We owe veterans who are willing to go into harm’s way to protect our country to have an honorable discharge – to know that the country is thankful for their service in an honorable way.
And, importantly, if you have a dishonorable discharge, you are precluded from having many of the benefits that you would otherwise have as a veteran. If elected to the U.S. Senate, I would pick that up and continue to work on that issue, absolutely.
BTL: How are you feeling about the race and your campaign at this point?
Peters: The number one focus has got to be to get people to vote. If the LGBT community votes, that’s a big number of people. The differences are so stark between the candidates; folks have to understand just how important this election is.
Millions of dollars are being spent by the other side, but their ultimate strategy is to suppress the vote. They are putting up a lot of bigoted stuff, and it’s so cynical. It’s about turning people off from the process and they think, well, if they do enough negative ads, people might just not go vote. They will just say, “Ah I’m just not gonna go vote, it doesn’t make a difference.” So if there is anything BTL can do to really highlight that, as strongly as people feel, it doesn’t make any difference unless they actually go vote. That is the only way that their voice is heard.