January 25, 2008
With Dennis gone, Dems disappointing?
Posted by: Chris
News that Dennis Kucinich has dropped his vanity candidacy for the presidency comes perfectly timed with an Associated Press report that about growing discontent among gay activists about the rest of the Democratic field, and Democrats generally.
Kucinich and fellow fringe candidate Mike Gravel were, of course, the only two presidential candidates to back full marriage equality, marking little change from four years earlier, when Kucinich, Al Sharpton and Carol Moseley-Braun were the only ones in support. That lack of progress masked real improvement in positions from the leading candidates on issues on which the federal government can make a difference -- since marriage is defined at the state level. For the first time, all the leading Dems back federal recognition of civil unions and, in a less well-defined commitment, other committed gay relationships.
But those commitments came months ago, last repeated in August at the Human Rights Campaign-Logo forum, and serious gay issues have largely dropped off the radar screen since. The AP reports:
"They don't want to broach civil unions, marriage, equalizing benefits for same-sex couples," said Jennifer Chrisler, head of the Family Equality Council, which supports gay and lesbian families. "The vast majority of politicians don't lead, they follow."
There are other frustrations as well. Activists were dismayed that the Democratic-led Congress failed to approve two much-anticipated bills late last year - one defining anti-gay assaults as a federal hate crime, the other prohibiting anti-gay job discrimination.
And at a time when they hoped to be making advances, gays and lesbians are on the defensive in at least two states - facing a likely ballot item in Florida that would ban same-sex marriage and a measure in Arkansas aimed at banning them from adopting children or serving as foster parents.
There's been no effort by HRC or other gay lobby groups to pressure the leading Democrats into greater specifics about federal recognition of gay relationships; not surprising because HRC clings to employment non-discrimination and hate crimes as the items of first importance on "the gay agenda."
The nonscientific Vizu poll on this blog and Gay News Watch only confirms what most gay folk would tell you: legal recognition for our relationships (cited by 57.1% percent) and equal health benefits (10.7% percent) are far more important to gay voters than workplace rights and hate crimes, which taken together were only cited by one quarter of those taking part in the survey.
But HRC will stick to the ENDA-hate crimes schtick because that's what the Democratic Party leadership has agreed to, even though the divisive battle over transgender inclusion made clear that workplace rights have lost their appeal as the easiest form of gay civil rights to enact.
Sure enough, there was HRC in the AP report, in its customary role of defending the Democrats and their vaguely-worded and rarely-kept commitments:
The president of the largest national gay-rights organization, Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign, is upbeat about the campaign. His group co-sponsored a televised forum last August in which the Democratic candidates addressed gay-rights topics, and he believes most gays and lesbians remain enthusiastic about the Democratic field despite some impatience.
Solmonese also sees an easing of anti-gay rhetoric across the political scene - a contrast to 2004 and 2006 when voters in more than 20 states approved measures to ban gay marriage.
"Among those people who use the politics of fear, there's typically an element of American society that's put forward as a wedge issue, and in this election it's illegal immigrants," Solmonese said. "It doesn't seem to be us."
This is progress, as measured by HRC: "illegal immigrants" (I thought people were never illegal) have now replaced the gays as political punching bags. Break out the champagne, people.
Because HRC is so captive to the Democratic Party, the group has invested huge sums in ill-defined "get out the vote" efforts even though the group hasn't endorsed anyone in the primaries. Those resources would be better spent pressing the candidates for specifics on their gay rights commitments, especially in the area of relationship recognition, but then that wouldn't be in the Democratic Party's interest, would it?
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