December 07, 2008
Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson
Posted by: Andoni
Chris describes a huge obstacle we are facing in the quest for gay and lesbian civil rights. A majority of the African American population currently opposes us in our struggle for civil rights, especially the right to marry.
It is interesting to note that during the 1940's, 50's and early 60's it was blacks who were trying to gain their civil rights but they had a voting bloc standing in their way, namely Southern White Democrats. Southern White Democratic leaders represented their white constituents' long held beliefs, values and prejudices, and repeatedly blocked any effective civil rights legislation Congress tried to pass. Finally, it took Lyndon B. Johnson, a president who was actually a Southern White Democrat to lean hard and twist the arms of his fellow Southerners to pass the historic Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965.
This sets up a parallel situation today. One of the biggest impediments to gay and lesbian Americans obtaining their civil rights is the African American electorate -- and, guess what, we are about to have an African American president. When the time is ripe for gays to take those huge leaps forward in civil rights, will a President Obama lean heavily and twist the arms of his fellow African American politicians to get major civil rights legislation for gays, just as Johnson had to do to his fellow South White Democrats? I think he will.
For Johnson, however, because he championed Civil Rights, he lost Southern White Democrats to the Republican Party for almost two generations. If Obama forces a vote that goes against the cultural values of African Americans, will they bolt from the Democratic Party? I don't think so.
Because of the timing of his presidency, Obama is in the unique position to be able to pass more gay rights legislation than any other president in history. (Actually, this isn't hard to do, because there has been no federal gay rights legislation). In his four years as president Obama can enact Hate Crimes legislation, the Employment Non Discrimation Act, federal recognition of gay relationships (granting us those 1200 rights and benefits), and repeal both "Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the Defense of Marriage Act. All these things are agenda items that he wants to accomplish as president. As I said in a previous post, if President Obama does all this, he would go down in history as the "gay rights" president.
This sets up another parallel that would close the loop between Barack Obama and Abraham Lincoln, a president Obama often cites and tries to emulate. Both Lincoln and Obama come to Washington from Illinois. Obama's most recent actions seem to indicate that he is trying to set up a "Team of Rivals" for his administration just as Lincoln did in his. Now here's where the circle could close: Obama is indirectly the beneficiary of one of Abraham Lincoln's greatest accomplishments --freeing the slaves. How poetic it would be if Obama took the lead on gay rights so the beneficiary of the freedom given by Abraham Lincoln becomes the president who in turn "freed the gays."
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