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Obama is best on gay rights

By |2008-01-17T09:00:00-05:00January 17th, 2008|Opinions|

by Chris Crain


After more than a year of campaigning in the most wide-open primaries in decades, it’s finally time for voters to pick a president. On the Democratic side, the three hopefuls with a viable shot at the nomination have all signed on to almost every item on the so-called “gay agenda.”
That includes workplace rights and hate crime protection for gay and transgender Americans, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying.
The differences that do exist come on the politically dicey issue of legal recognition for our relationships. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all support repealing the provision of the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act” that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples. But only Obama and Edwards support full repeal of DOMA, including the provision that says each state can choose to ignore gay marriages from other states.
Hillary Clinton won’t go that far and has stopped short of criticizing her husband for signing DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law. She and Obama have also declined to sponsor the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay Americans the right to sponsor a non-American partner for citizenship. Then again, Edwards didn’t sign on to UAFA’s predecessor legislation during his Senate tenure, and all three say they support the idea of equal immigration rights in principle.
All three also support a truly dramatic change in how the federal government treats gay couples, extending recognition not just to gay couples lucky enough to marry in Massachusetts, but also to those who enter into civil unions, domestic partnerships or simply establish that they are in long-term, committed relationships.
None of the three supports full marriage equality, but that is an issue decided at the state level anyway. The only Democratic presidential hopeful from 2004 and 2008 who does support gay marriage, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, has told his supporters in Iowa to back Obama as their second choice.
Even though the differences on gay rights among the top three Dems are mostly cosmetic, they each represent starkly different choices. Hillary Clinton is the party’s establishment candidate and a well-known quantity. Her hard-nosed pragmatism is admired by some as a can-do approach, and criticized by others as overly cautious and calculating.
In probably the most important moment of last fall’s HRC-Logo presidential forum, Hillary seemed completely unmoved by Melissa Etheridge recalling in personal terms how gay Americans felt “thrown under the bus” in the 1990s when Bill Clinton failed to live up as president to the promises he made to gays as a candidate.
If anything, Hillary is even more cautious than her husband and if elected would face Republicans with knives at the ready on gay issues. Despite many opportunities, she has not given gay voters any reason to believe she would show more leadership on gay rights than her husband did. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us.
As good as John Edwards sounds on gay issues, he has established himself as the gay Pander Bear of the primary. In nationally televised debates, the former senator from South Carolina has cited his Southern Baptist upbringing to explain his opposition to gay marriage. Yet somehow his gay supporters say Edwards proved himself our moral champion when he was the only one to disagree right away with Gen. Peter Pace, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said last spring that homosexuality is immoral.
Are we really to believe that in the personal moral view of John Edwards, we are moral enough to fight and die for our country, but not to marry? That sort of nonsense is why generals and presidential candidates ought to leave their religion out of politics.
But Edwards just can’t resist, and so like Mitt Romney on the Republican side, reinvents himself depending on his audience. With other good choices available, there is no reason to side with someone so slippery.
Especially when the remaining option is Barack Obama, who like Clinton offers a historic candidacy with the potential to transform American politics. Unlike Clinton – rightly or wrongly – Obama does not polarize the public. Hillary would begin a general election with 46 percent unfavorable ratings – a very small margin to win, not to mention to govern.
Except on gay marriage, Obama has hit all the right notes on the gay rights issues of the day, and he has refused to pander. He has chastised conservative black pastors and white evangelicals alike for opposing gay rights and aggressive HIV prevention. He even refused the demand from gay activists that he reject the support of Grammy-winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin because he claims to be “ex-gay.”
Obama is the only candidate who talks regularly about gay rights, including civil unions, in front of national audiences, and he is the candidate best suited to reach out to independents and Republicans in the general election and in fulfilling the promises he has made as a candidate.
If you can vote in the Democratic primary of your state, there is no better candidate on gay rights than Barack Obama.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.