February 11, 2008
Hillary makes her own gay case
Posted by: Chris
Hillary Clinton defended her views on a variety of gay rights issues in an interview posted today by the Washington Blade. It was only her second gay press interview of the campaign, which bests Barack Obama by one. I don't know the exigencies of the Sunday interview, but it was a curious choice for my former Blade colleague Kevin Naff to ask the questions, since he has already endorsed Clinton for president, but fortunately he does not seem to pull any punches.
Clinton was at her strongest talking about extending federal legal recognition to gay couples who are married, in civil unions, domestic partnerships, and even committed gay couples who reside in states with no official status:
She repeated her call for a repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, because it prohibits the federal government from recognizing decisions made by the states in terms of enacting civil unions, domestic partnerships or, in the case of Massachusetts, full marriage rights.
“I think extending federal benefits is a very important step forward,” she said. “I don’t see why a same-sex couple in California, which has a domestic partnership law, should be able to take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act if one of them is ill, while a couple in another state without such a law cannot.
“I would like to see federal benefits extended to same-sex couples that meet certain standards of commitment regardless of the state in which they reside. Too many couples cannot share life decisions, or jointly own property or take care of one another within a recognized legal framework. I want to change that.”
At the same time, her go-it-slow pragmatism shows through, since she sees the "first step" as domestic partner benefits for federal employees, and even that she says will be "challenging."
Clinton defended her position in favor of only half-repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by her husband, arguing that the other half, which allows states to refuse recognition to gay marriages from other states, is needed to forestall a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage:
“We’d already seen the success the Republican majority had had in 2002, 2004 in using this as a wedge issue. I was able to explain to other senators that DOMA ensured marriage would be left to the states — that was critical in defeating the amendment. It gave us an argument with both Republicans and Democrats.”
Unfortunately, the two HRCs -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Human Rights Campaign -- chose to fight the federal marriage amendment by arguing redundancy rather than federalism or the fundamental unfairness of preventing gay couples from full equal rights. When the amendment came to the Senate floor, they defected even further from the core case for equality, and instead made only the partisan argument that President Bush and congressional Republicans were trying to change the subject from the Iraq War and rising gas prices. That may have been true, but it was a huge wasted opportunity for making the case for treating gay couples fairly. When our "friends" look for ways to avoid arguing on our behalf, it sends a clear signal of weakness. Hillary "I'll work hard" Clinton should know that.
On a personal note, I was pleased to see Hillary speak out in her most forceful tone to date on the Uniting American Families Act, which neither she nor Obama have co-sponsored, though both say they support it with reservations:
“I’m supportive of it and the strategy was to do it as part of comprehensive immigration reform,” she said. “We still need to do comprehensive immigration reform … that is my preference.”
Her recollection is a bit curious, however, since there was no effort to include UAFA in the last round of comprehensive immigration reform. Perhaps she was referring to the strategy looking forward.
On another hot-button issue, Hillary said she would prefer the Employment Non-Discrimination Act be introduced in the Senate in an "inclusive form," meaning with transgender protection, but she declined to comment on the divisive House debate over whether to support ENDA as a gay-only measure if the votes aren't there for gender identity.
Clinton was at her weakest when Kevin asked her to respond to the claim by Obama supporters that he talks about gay rights much more often before non-gay audiences. Rather than respond to the substance, she quipped that she found the claim "ironic since Senator Obama had his gospel tour with [Donnie] McClurkin that he and his supporters would take credit for that."
The real irony is that the McClurkin episode was only one of many when Obama did what Clinton will not, reiterating even to his own base supporters that he disagrees with them on gay rights and will work to fight homophobia within their community. Hillary Clinton has never showed that sort of strength.
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