August 27, 2008
Don't hold your breath for Biden
Posted by: Chris
Those looking to Barack Obama's vice presidential pick for some reassurance that the presidential nominee's strongly supportive gay rights talk will translate into legislative walk once in office will find little of either in running mate Joe Biden, the longtime Delaware senator.
The selection of Biden was immediately praised by gay and trans groups in Washington and by activists from his home state, but the good senator's record doesn't live up to such laudatory rhetoric. In fact, Joe Biden was without question dead last on issues important to LGBT voters among the eight Democrats who ran for president this year.
As usual, the Human Rights Campaign did the Democratic Party's bidding, "hailing" Biden as "a proven and effective advocate for fairness and equality," according to HRC president Joe Solmonese, whose "support and understanding has been unwavering."
"Unwavering"? HRC's own congressional report cards tell a very different story. Biden scored "unwavering" (i.e. "100") only one time in the decade, and has trended downward in recent years, from 89 ('97-'98), 86 ('99-'00), 100 ('01-'02) to 63 ('03-'04), and 78 ('05-'06). Do you know any parents or teachers who would look at report cards like that and pronounce those grades an "unwavering" success?
Neither Biden nor Obama supports same-sex marriage, of course, but Biden's opposition runs much deeper and is much more troubling. Obama opposed the passage of the notorious Defense of Marriage Act, as did John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee four years ago. Not Joe Biden. He sided with Republicans to enact DOMA into law, and has never once said publicly that he regrets his vote or favors a full or even partial repeal.
Biden's position on DOMA and other important issues remains a mystery in part because he was one of only two Democratic presidential hopefuls who chose to skip last fall's televised forum on gay issues sponsored by HRC and Logo. He claimed to have a "scheduling conflict" but his campaign website showed no appearances scheduled for the day of the forum.
Rather than consider that poor choice an example of "wavering," Solmonese points to the recent repeal of the discriminatory HIV travel and immigration ban as proof of "the type of leadership we can expect from Senator Biden on the issues important to our community."
Let's hope not. Solmonese credits Biden's work as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as important to passage of the repeal, but really it was the least that Biden could do. After all, he was one of those who voted in favor of the original Helms Amendment back in 1988 that put HIV on the list of communicable diseases that could get you barred from entering the country.
When Louis Sullivan, the health secretary under Republican President George H.W. Bush, tried to take HIV off the list back in 1992, Joe Biden was one of only a handful of Democrats who broke ranks to support a Republican amendment that made the ban on HIV tourists and immigrants a matter of statute.
The "wavering" doesn't stop there, on either HIV or immigration. Biden has declined to date to sponsor the Early Treatment for HIV Act, which would allow states to use Medicaid money to help low-income folks who have HIV but not full-blown AIDS. When HRC asked the Democrats running for president to say "yes" or "no" about whether they support the bill, Biden was alone among the eight in dodging the question.
On immigration, Biden has not only declined to co-sponsor the Uniting American Familes Act, legislation that extends to gay Americans the right to sponsor foreign partners for citizenship, his only public statement on the issue is so vague that's impossible to tell for sure which way he'd "waver" if it came to a vote.
Mara Keisling, who heads up the National Center for Transgender Equality, also cut Biden a whole lot of slack, saying: "We have reason to think he's very positive on all LGBT issues."
"All LGBT issues"? The Delaware senator was very, very late among Democratic senators to co-sponsor the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, back when it only protected "sexual orientation." Biden waited more than five years after ENDA was first introduced and finally signed on only after some thirty-four of his party colleagues -- and even three Republicans! -- had already done so. Is this the "leadership" HRC says "our entire community can be proud of"?
The HRC candidate questionnaire asked each of the Democrats running for president if they would "support and work for passage" of the new version of ENDA that prohibits protects both "sexual orientation and gender identity," Biden responded only that he supports outlawing bias based on sexual orientation, making him one of only two candidates to dodge the question.
Despite a lot of lazy fact-gathering on the blogosphere, there’s no clear evidence Biden favors adding transgender protections to ENDA. Aren't we supposed to care about that?
None of this is to suggest that Biden is actually anti-gay or has a record anything comparable to John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee, who is a gay rights nightmare. Biden has voted in favor of gay workplace rights, hate crime laws, against a federal marriage amendment and is solid on repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He's even said some encouraging things on the campaign trail about civil unions and the inevitability of gay marriage.
But LGBT voters deserve to know that the real Joe Biden bears little resemblance to the steadfast champion portrayed by the groups in Washington that supposedly advocate for our equality. If they've "pinkwashed" his record simply because an Obama-Biden administration would be far and away superior to a McCain-[fill in the blank] administration, then fair enough -- say so.
Don't mislead gay voters by lying about Biden's mediocre record because it only signals to Democrats (yet again) that something way less than a full loaf of equality will keep our stomachs from grumbling.
For more information about Joe Biden's position on gay rights:
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