Presidential politics for the LGBT observer

By Lisa Keen

Keen on the trail
13-Second lapse

With 10 candidates lined up for the first debate, the Republican field was scrambling last Thursday, May 3, to squeeze big answers about big questions into the 30 seconds maximum each was allowed. But former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson managed to answer one question in just 13 seconds. The question was, "If a private employer finds homosexuality immoral, should he be allowed to fire a gay worker?" Thompson paused, then said, "I think that is left up to the individual business. I really sincerely believe that is an issue that business people have got to make their own determination as to whether or not they should be." David Clarenbach, an openly gay former state representative from Wisconsin, told the Madison Capital Times that he was shocked at Thompson's answer, noting that Thompson "signed more anti-discriminatory legislation that protected the rights of gays and lesbians than any governor in Wisconsin history." The Wall Street Journal reported that, in a post-debate gathering with reporters, Thompson said that he had not heard the question correctly. "There should be no sexual discrimination whatsoever," he said.

Richardson's odd choice:

During the debate among Democrats in South Carolina last month, three Democratic presidential candidates were asked who they would identify as the "model" Supreme Court justice. The question is important because, given the age of at least one of the more liberal justices currently on the court, the next president could well have an opportunity to choose one. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who got the question first, answered Byron White. That was a surprise on two fronts: First, Richardson supports equal rights for gays and White wrote the notorious Bowers v. Hardwick decision which upheld sodomy laws and put enormous obstacles on gays seeking equal protection under the law in many arenas. Secondly, White wrote a dissent to the landmark Roe v. Wade decision upholding the right of a woman to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. As he did in Hardwick, White wrote with a dismissive tone in Roe, saying that the majority in Roe "values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries." When moderator Brian Williams asked Richardson to choose a model from among the living justices, Richardson chose Ruth Bader Ginsburg who has stoutly upheld the right of a woman to choose. He added that he chose her because she "said that this [which he did not identify] was an erosion of a woman's right to chose and degraded the ability of a woman to protect herself health wise." Senator Christopher Dodd first said the late William Brennan, a staunch defender of equal rights for gays while he was on the court; then Ginsburg. Edwards chose "Ginsburg or Breyer," the latter being Justice Stephen Breyer.

Protecting marriage:

U.S. Senator John McCain chipped in on New Hampshire civil unions last week, prompted by a New York Sun reporter's blog. In response to a question about the recent passage of civil union legislation in the first primary state, McCain wrote, "If I were a citizen of New Hampshire, I would oppose it. … Anything that impinges or impacts the sanctity of the marriage between men and women, I'm opposed to it." What reporters keep forgetting to ask McCain is, given his philosophy of being opposed to "anything that impinges or impacts the sanctity of marriage between men and women," how he justified divorcing his first wife after 20 years of marriage and, a month later, married Cindy, heiress to the second-largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch.

Securing the nation

McCain is also standing by the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In an April 16 letter, responding to one from Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director C. Dixon Osburn, McCain said, "I believe polarization of personnel and breakdown of unit effectiveness is too high a price to pay for well-intentioned but misguided efforts to elevate the interests of a minority of homosexual service members above those of their units. Most importantly, the national security of the United States, not to mention the lives of our men and women in uniform, are put at grave risk by policies detrimental to the good order and discipline which so distinguish America's Armed Services." Sharra Greer, director of SLDN's law and policy office, said McCain's response is "out of step with the overwhelming majority of the American people, and out of touch with the best interests of our armed forces."

SF Group backs Edwards:

A group of wealthy activists organized by two gay men in San Francisco voted for John Edwards in a caucus style straw poll of members April 26. The group, Win the White House in 2008, was formed by Jeff Anderson, a consultant to socially responsible organizations, and his life partner Jeff Soukup, president of the gay website PlanetOut. Anderson said about 20 percent of the 120 people who participated in the caucus were gay, including former ETrade president Kathy Levinson. Anderson and Soukup, who hosted a number of gay "meet and greet" campaign for Democratic presidential candidates in 2004, organized the Win the White House group as an expansion of that effort in hopes of giving a larger representation of people a closer look at the candidates. Anderson said Edwards won the initial straw poll followed by Obama. In a follow-up vote online by about 60 members of the group, Edwards won, followed by Clinton. The vote did not commit the participants to support the candidates, said Anderson. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the group, which it says is 200 strong, is able to raise up to $5 million for candidates.

Clinton shares

In meeting with the San Francisco group, Hillary Clinton reportedly shared a story about her father's personal growth concerning gay people. According to the account Jeff Anderson shared with the New York Observer, Clinton told the Winning the White House group that her father had expressed bias about gay people until he lived next door to a gay couple when he lived in Little Rock before his death. Clinton reportedly said her father developed a friendship with the men and eventually overcame that prejudice. One of the men, a doctor, was holding Rodham's hand as he died.

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