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    May 30, 2007

    A new Democratic frontrunner

    Posted by: Chris

    John_edwards1 There may be three Democrats in the "top tier" of presidential candidates, but on gay issues we now have a clear frontrunner.  Now that we can see in complete form the "campaign statements" issued by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama last week on gay issues, it's clear that rival John Edwards is willing to go further and is much stronger on the specifics.

    Whether the former North Carolina senator has evolved or converted since the days when he supposedly felt uncomfortable around "those people" — that would be us — he's got a comfortable lead on gay rights now. To date, only Edwards among the top-tier (or even the second tier) has:

    1. committed to extending the more than 1,100 benefits, rights and privileges provided to married couples and their families in federal law to same-sex couples (and their children;
    2. supported repeal of the half of the Defense of Marriage Act that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued by states to gay couples; and
    3. supported the Uniting American Families Act, which extends to gay Americans the same rights that straight citizens have to sponsor our non-American partners for residence and citizenship.

    1111151611111519slarge Hillary Rodham Clinton's statement is the most disappointing, given her high profile support from gay activists, especially from inside "the other HRC" — that would be the Human Rights Campaign.  Like Edwards and Obama, Clinton favors workplace rights and federal hate crime laws and the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."  And like the other two, she opposes both gay marriage and a federal marriage amendment, and supports civil unions.

    The similarities apparently end there.  As I've pointed out (here and here and here and here and, well you get the point), Hillary has been persistently vague about what federal recognition she supports for gay couples in civil unions, domestic partnerships or state-sanctioned marriages.  She is running for president, after all, not governor, so her support for civil unions is nice but not so relevant.

    Edwards has committed to repealing DOMA so that gay couples married in Massachusetts (and hopefully elsewhere, soon enough) would be entitled to federal recognition.  And he's spelled out that the recognition would extend to everything marriage does — all 1,000-plus rights and responsibilities — including immigration rights.

    Hillary, on the other hand, commits to "work to ensure that all Americans in committed relationships have equal benefits — from health insurance and life insurance, property rights and more."  Good stuff, of course, but aside from federal employee D.P. benefits, which she supports, how does a president work to extend property rights and other benefits controlled at the state level?  We need to hear from her on Social Security benefits, federal taxes, immigration rights, but her position paper is position-free on those.

    11_barack_obama_gl Obama's statement isn't much better; in fact the two look so similar it's as if their staffs were in collusion. On the crucial issue of legal recognition for gay couples, Obama talks about “full rights,” but only spells out health insurance, employee benefits and making medical decisions, as well as “the same property rights as anyone else.”

    Obama’s support on these state-level issues is welcome but it's been years since he served in the Illinois state Senate.  He’s in the big leagues now, and he needs to spell out his "full rights" for gay couples the way Edwards does.

    Speaking of his time in the state Senate, Obama does get a few bonus points for going on record for legislation "to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and public accommodations."  Clinton hasn't addressed bias beyond the workplace, at least that I've seen, though even Obama's statement stops short of saying he would support extending federal civil rights laws on housing and public accommodation to protect gays.

    It's also noteworthy that only Edwards commits to inclusion of "gender identity" in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, although both he and Clinton (but not Obama) back a similar category in federal hate crime laws.

    It's hard to say exactly why, behind just playing it safe, that Obama and Clinton offered up such lukewarm support.  Obama may place a higher priority on courting African-Americans, especially those black clergy who reject the analogy of the two civil rights movements. 

    For Hillary, it's probably about Bill. We were reminded just yesterday of how Bill Clinton can look us in the eyes, feel our pain, and sell us down the river.  Not only are we still trying, a full decade later, to undo his signatures on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.  But we learned how in just the last presidential election cycle, the former president tried to convince John Kerry to reverse his opposition to a federal constitutional amendment banning states from marrying gay couples.

    Here's the low-down, from Ben Smith's Politico blog, retelling the story from the new memoir by longtime Democratic political consultant Bob Shrum:

    In 2004, Newsweek reported, without a named source, that Bill Clinton had suggested Kerry "to back local bans on gay marriage." Shrum has more, and different, detail:

    "Clinton, Kerry reported at the time, did suggest blunting Bush's appeal to cultural conservatives with a reprise of Clinton's Sister Souljah moment in 1992 when he'd denounced her call for violence against whites — and done it as conspicuously as possible in front of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition.

    "Kerry, Clinton ventured, should consider defying Democratic interest groups by endorsing the Bush proposal for a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage."

    Shrum reports that "this was a flip-flop too far for Kerry."

    It's also worse in Shrum's version — the federal amendment, versus state amendments -- than in Newsweek's telling. And Bill Clinton does, reportedly, continue to play a small role in Hillary's campaign.

    Putting aside the obvious hypocrisy of a lecherous adulterer like Bill Clinton backing a constitutional amendment to prevent gay couples from marrying, the Kerry vignette is an important reminder about the two-for-one bargain Hillary now brings to the table. With Obama's star fading a bit, as could only be expected when his specifics don't live up to his starpower, where does that leave us?

    It puts the pressure on the committed gay men and lesbians within the HRC camp — and HRC — to push Hillary to put out specifics that even her husband wouldn't like.  The latter HRC, the group that is, has indicated that the release of full questionnaires from all the candidates is imminent, including a side-by-side comparison.  So perhaps Clinton and Obama's blanks will get filled in then. 

    If they don't, then perhaps we take another look at the second tier, where both New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Connectitut Sen. Chris Dodd have already committed to more specifics on federal recognition for gay couples than either Clinton or Obama, including on immigration rights. Otherwise, we may well be left with choosing between Hillary allowing slick Willie to still pull the strings vs. Edwards, who may well be a poor man's Slick Willie "who hasn't read the books," as Shrum put it so memorably.

    From my files:



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    1. Chris Crain: Edwards is Frontrunner on LGBT Issues from Out For Democracy on Jun 5, 2007 11:59:28 AM

      Former editor of the Washington Blade and Blogger Chris Crain has a new post, calling John Edwards the frontrunner on gay issues. Crain writes "There may be three Democrats in the "top tier" of presidential candidates, but on gay issues... [Read More]


    1. Andoni 30324 on May 30, 2007 8:43:11 AM:

      If HRC endorses HRC, there should be outrage from the grassroots. Clearly, Hillary is NOT the best on our issues.

      I have given money to Richardson, Obama, and Edwards. In this next round, Obama isn't getting any and I'm going to tell the campaign why.

      What's scary about Bill and Hillary is that they are a very powerful team inside the Democratic Party and hold a lot of IOU's from the "superdelegates." These are the Democratic elected public officials (Congressmen, Senators, Mayors) who become automatic delegates to the Democratic Convention regardless of how the primaries turn out. If the delegate count gets split such that no one ends up with a majority going in, these "superdelegates," most of whom owe something to the Clintons, could tilt the balance for the nomination. Ugh!

      The power of the Clintons is demonstrated today by the fact that the Hispanic mayor of L.A. is endorsing Hillary, not Richardson. The same is true with a lot of black leaders endorsing Hillary over Obama. The Clintons have a lot influence over public officials in the Party, which gives them an undemocratic advantage not talked about much.

    1. "Every queen" on May 30, 2007 3:17:21 PM:

      Yeah, because we all know how credible the loser hack Bob Shrum is...

    1. Maureen on May 30, 2007 11:31:35 PM:

      Chris, when you first wrote about Edwards' "uncomfortable" remark, did you provide a link that showed it in context, i.e., what was he discussing with whom and how did it get repeated?


    1. Tim on May 31, 2007 9:28:24 AM:

      Edwards makes me vomit, Hillary reminds me of how corrupt Clinton was, Obama would be a democratic version of Bush and Richardson can't seem to get off the ground.

      Call me when someone with class actually starts running

    1. Ben Gardent on May 31, 2007 12:24:33 PM:

      Kucinich has class and strong convictions, too bad the American people need a supestar and someone who "looks presidential."

    1. Wes on May 31, 2007 12:56:48 PM:

      The above comment by Tim fairly well summarized the situation. My dear gay republican friend (yes, there are some....) is asking me why Chris did not compare where Rudy is in this discussion. I would doubt he is for giving gays all of the 1100 (or however many) benefits that Edwards has indicated he is willing to cast our way but could someone please tell me exactly what Rudy means when he is 'supportive of domestic partnerships'. Is now a scary time to ask? Does that mean that Rudy is for giving us 10 of the 1100? 100? 650? Or how many. Why do journalists let politicians get away with making some b.s. statement like: "I am supportive of domestic partnerships but not marriage". Well what does that mean?

    1. Andoni on May 31, 2007 2:22:06 PM:

      I'm with you on your question about journalists, Wes. It's almost as if most of these guys don't, can't or won't think during the interview. It often looks like they are simply asking a list of questions that they have and are busy reading the next question from their notes while the interviewee is answering --- instead of listening to the answer to see if it makes sense, is clear or warrants a follow up.

      I really think I could do better than most of these professionals with journalism degrees. Maybe they can write better than I can, but I know I have a more inquisitive mind with regard to asking the questions than most of them.

    1. Wendy on Jun 11, 2007 11:22:28 PM:

      I have to say that as nice as some of finer pieces of Edwards' policy points are, the major Dem candidates really are all pretty much on the same page (until you start splitting hairs, anyway). I mean, check out the responses to (the other) HRC's questionnaire:
      That checklist does cover all the big issues- and the only difference between any of the Dems is marriage, which the major Dems uniformly oppose and the progrssive insurgents unitformly support.

      I think the real question for me (and maybe for our community at large?) is who really "gets" the sting of discrimination. And for that, my money's on a Black man rather than a good 'ol boy or a former First Lady. Not to mention that breaking the color barrier in the Oval Office should probably be one of our priorities as a progressive community - it's rather strange to me that with a woman, a Black man, a Latino, and a Southern white guy in the race, our community would be going with the Sourthern white guy. Call me crazy, but isn't that just a little strange?

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