by Eric W. Rader
Though the campaign for governor of Michigan has been underway for almost two years, most voters are only now beginning to pay attention. However, before citizens decide whom they want to serve as governor next year, the two parties have to select their candidates. Democratic and Republican voters will go to the polls on Aug. 3 to choose their parties’ nominees for the state’s highest office. Several of these columns this year have focused on the 2010 political races in Michigan and the importance of the LGBT community’s involvement in the electoral process. Now, with less than a month until the primaries, it’s time we focus more intently on the gubernatorial contenders and where they stand on issues of equality and fairness.
On the Republican side, the candidates include Attorney General Mike Cox (Livonia), Congressman Pete Hoekstra (Holland), businessman Rick Snyder (Ann Arbor), State Senator Tom George (Kalamazoo County), and Oakland County Sherriff Michael Bouchard. At this point, it appears that all of the GOP candidates for governor would represent a major step backward for LGBT equality in Michigan. Cox enthusiastically endorsed Proposal 2 in 2004. As Attorney General, Cox gave the broadest possible interpretation of the amendment, declaring in an official ruling that it prohibited any public institution in the state from offering domestic partner benefits to their employees, even though the amendment was supposedly only about marriage.
Most of the Republican candidates have come out against both same-sex marriage and domestic partner benefits, including Bouchard, Cox, George and Hoekstra. Businessman Snyder opposes gay marriage, but has come out in support of some rights for same-sex couples. All of the GOP contenders, except Snyder, have actively sought support from the “tea party” movement. While the “tea partiers” are generally more focused on economic issues, the movement has exhibited very conservative social views, and hostility to equal rights for the LGBT community.
Along with his Republican colleagues in the State Senate, Sen. George opposes the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in the anti-bullying legislation currently being considered in the legislature.
Two Democrats are vying for their party’s nomination: State House Speaker Andy Dillon (Redford), and Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero. Speaker Dillon is more moderate than Bernero on issues of equality, though certainly better than any of the Republican candidates. Dillon opposes redefining marriage, but does not oppose civil unions for same-sex couples. He also would not oppose granting domestic partner benefits to public employees. The anti-bullying legislation passed by the State House, which Dillon leads, does not specifically enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories, though it does offer protection to students based on “perceived” characteristics. This represents a compromise in language designed to win more support for the legislation. Dillon is also opposed to a woman’s right to choose on abortion.
Of all the candidates running for governor, Democrat or Republican, Mayor Bernero has the most positive record on issues of concern to the LGBT community. He strongly opposed Proposal 2, and supports equal rights for gay and lesbian couples. Bernero supports broad-based anti-bullying legislation. In his role as mayor of Lansing, Bernero addressed the Michigan Pride rally in Lansing in June, just as he has several times since heis been mayor. Bernero is the only gubernatorial candidate to take official action in support of the LGBT community, by signing a human rights ordinance in Lansing that includes sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories. Throughout his political career in both the legislature and as mayor, Bernero has consistently supported a womanis right to choose.
The LGBT community should carefully consider its options before heading to the polls on Aug. 3. Some members of our community are fiscally conservative and may feel compelled to vote for a Republican candidate based on economic issues. While it’s understandable that some might face such economic/social conflicts, it’s important that voters consider the big picture. The LGBT community has been under extreme assault in Michigan in recent years. Most of the Republican candidates for governor have been part of that assault, and would have greater power as governor to further marginalize our community. Our current governor has been a friend to the LGBT community and has helped to block the worst aspects of the assaults against us. It is important that we not go backward. Consider the choices carefully, and participate in this year’s primary election. Our community cannot afford to sit on the sidelines at this critical moment.