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  • August 11, 2008

    The eruption of Edwards, the bimbo

    Posted by: Chris

    Since my earlier comment on the John Edwards bimbo eruption was limited to how the media has been covering it, I wanted to offer a few thoughts on the bimbo himself -- that would be Edwards, not his blonde IED.

    The revelation that the former North Carolina senator and vice presidential candidate had cheated on his cancer-stricken wife -- whether in remission or no -- was not particularly telling. But the fact that he lied about it, when his own past moralisms on the subject came back to haunt -- now that confirmed my impression of the man since he first appeared on the national political scene some five years ago.

    He was, is and will be a fake -- and almost transparently so, at least for those of us who are fellow-travelers professionally -- not just as lawyers, but as litigators. We've all seen the type, especially representing plaintiffs for exorbitant contingency fees. They are masters at adopting the angst of their clients, making their David vs. Goliath cause his own.

    Substitute voters for juries, and the cause of "two Americas" or "the poor" for that of the plaintiff, and ouila -- you have a John Edwards, the politician. I consistently underestimated his appeal because he was so familiar and so transparent to me, but then again quite a few very smart Democrats were blinded a bit by their own desperate desire for a win at the presidential level. A smooth-talking, Southern white politician in the Bill Clinton mold was just too much to resist.

    While we don't know, at this point, whether Edwards' bimbo eruptions were as frequent as Bill's, it strains credulity to imagine he got busted on the one and only time in 30 years that he strayed. But as I said, it wasn't the straying itself that confirmed Edwards was a fake. It was the way he is trying to play us, even after he got caught.

    I can't put it any better than Eve Fairbanks from TNR, who ticked off quite the chit-list:

    • He used campaign donations to pay his mistress $114,000 for web videos that were hardly ever used.
    • He lied repeatedly about the affair to the public.
    • He showed zero concern for the Democratic Party by trying to sell himself as its commander while he knew he was secretly holding a live grenade.
    • He made his closest political ally--Elizabeth--complicit in his lies and muddied her reputation.
    • He--to use a very generous interpretation of events--showed zero curiosity about some very curious things intimately related to his life, namely, why his campaign finance chief paid his mistress $15,000 a month and why a top campaign aide fathered his own ex-mistress's child.
    • He gave a bizarre, creepy, lawyerly response to the straightforward question of whether a National Enquirer photograph showed him holding his ex-mistress's baby.
    • And he went on TV and tried to make his own personal mess into a teachable moment for America, launching into a treacly morality tale about how fame turned the head of a Small Town Boy and insisting that people would forgive him because he's "imperfect"--a sanctimonious, unapologetic word that implies that those who hoped for anything different from him were asking for the impossible, perfection.

    Amen. And good riddance.

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    Filed in: Edwards

    August 09, 2008

    The slo-mo outing of John Edwards

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwardsnightline The story of John Edwards' adulterous affair finally broke through the mainstream media barrier yesterday, after being almost completely ignored by every outlet except by the National Enquirer, which broke the story almost a year ago, and conservative media like Fox News and the National Review.

    To hear the complaints from the right, the MSM refused coverage because Edwards is a Democrat, a ludicrous assertion when you consider the saturation coverage Bill Clinton received not just as president but as a candidate for the office. In fact, the only media actually motivated by Edwards' politics were the likes of Fox and National Review, who no doubt would have ignored the story if a Republican presidential candidate was the focus.

    More directly on point, the MSM has almost completely ignored the juicy details concerning the way GOP nominee John McCain dumped his first wife, who underwent a debilitating car accident during his four years of captivity, when the lovely (and mega-wealthy) Cindy Henley came into the picture.

    Slate was one of the few outlets not from the right to touch the Edwards story before yesterday, speculating that the reason for the kid glove treatment wasn't Edwards' partisan affiliation but his sexual orientation. Comparing Edwards' late-night shenanigans outside the Beverly Hilton a few weeks ago to Larry Craig's notorious foot-tapping in the Minneapolis airport stall, the differing treatment could mean only one thing:

    So why hasn't the press commented on the [Edwards at the Hilton] story yet? Is it because … news organizations want to investigate it for themselves before writing about it? Or are they observing a double standard that says homo-hypocrisy is indefensible but that hetero-hypocrisy deserves an automatic bye? That's my sense.

    I'm inclined to disagree, especially with the idea that the Enquirer was doing the job the MSM should have by staking out the Beverly Hilton at 3 a.m. For one thing, the MSM refused to cover the Larry Craig story when it was at the same, speculative stage. Even though Mike Rogers and other outing activists had publicly accused Craig of being a closeted hypocrite, all but Craig's hometown paper refused to touch the story.

    It was the right call on both Craig and Edwards because tracking down rumors of hypocrisy concerning public figures should not reduce reporters to late-night stakeouts of hotel lobbies or restroom stalls. Even hypocritical public figures are entitled to some zone of privacy to live their lives. The official can certainly be asked about the rumors, but once denied there's no story absent public evidence to back it up.

    In Craig's case, it was his arrest and guilty plea; in Edwards' it was his own admission. Keep in mind that Edwards spilled his guts not because of tabloid coverage, as he claimed, but because the MSM was closing in on the story, including payments apparently made by to Rielle Hunter and Andrew Young, the putative father of her "love child," by the Edwards campaign finance chair.

    So as satisfying as it might be to use the example of Edwards to bemoan the MSM's reluctance to do its job, it's actually an example (like Craig) of the system working pretty much the way it should.

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    May 14, 2008

    'There is one man...'

    Posted by: Chris

    NOTE: I've updated this post because the more I thought about it, the more I think Edwards' choice of language was not a gender slight, but a subtle hint to Hillaryland and her supporters that his heart isn't in it. Trying to have it both ways, like Edwards has attempted on the Iraq War, gay rights and many other issues over the years.

    EdwardsobamaREVISED POST: Is it just me or was John Edwards' endorsement of Barack Obama either lukewarm or rather tone-deaf toward women? The punch line announcing Edwards' decision repeated four times the line, "There is one man…" and concluded, "That man is Barack Obama":

    There is one man -- there is one man who knows and understands that now is the time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change, that you have to build from the ground up. There is one man that knows in his heart that it is time to create one America, not two, and that man is Barack Obama.

    Given the other candidate in the Democratic primary is most definitely not a man, is Edwards even saying he believes Obama is better than Hillary Clinton? And if he is, what kind of signal does it send to say Obama is "the man" for the job?

    The message is subtle, but I read this as Edwards chiming in only because the race is over and he's angling for a role in Obama's administration -- probably attorney general. In that sense, the former senator from North Carolina is displaying the same absence of political courage that has been his signature for years.

    Full video of the Edwards endorsement speech here:

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    Filed in: Edwards , Obama

    January 30, 2008

    And then there were five

    Posted by: Chris

    080130_edwards_analysis John Edwards is out. Rudy Giuliani is out. Not only will that impact who wins the primaries but allows for more meaningful comparisons of the likely match-ups for the fall as well.

    Edwards' departure obviously clarifies the Democratic race, though it's anybody's guess whether it will benefit Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. The North Carolina senator ran on the ideological left of the field, a contrast from his Senate voting record and his 2004 persona. If his supporters are similarly inclined, then Obama may benefit because voters perceive him (probably correctly) as more liberal than Clinton -- especially on the Iraq War.

    Obama will obviously also benefit by consolidating the "anybody but Hillary" folks. As much as I have grown to dislike Hillary in this campaign, I do not count myself among that crowd. If Obama had dropped out, I would have probably swung Hillary's way -- because Edwards' "journey" on gay rights and other issues struck me as only slightly more genuine that Mitt Romney's trip the contrary direction, and Edwards' proximity to trial lawyers and trade unions is anathema to me.

    W0129110a On the Republican side, Giuliani's non-starter of a campaign was a huge disappointment to many social moderates in the party. The only bright side is that few analysts are blaming his failure on his left-leaning social views, although those and his messey personal life no doubt were to blame in part for why he never caught fire in Iowa or New Hampshire and ended up bailing on both.

    His departure from the campaign puts gay-friendly moderates in a bind. Mike Huckabee is obviously a non-starter, except for those who believe that nominating the least electable candidate is the best political strategy. My own view is that he's only staying at this point because he knows that many of his evangelical backers would likely flock to Romney, whom Huckabee clearly disdains. There's also plenty of speculation that Huckabee is bucking to be McCain's running mate, although I find that unlikely, even though it might help the ticket with evangelicals and in the South.

    John McCain is portrayed as the remaining moderate in the race, and the label fits well on issues like finance reform, immigration, torture, tax cuts -- where he can be a GOP maverick. His famous willingness to "reach across the aisle" has never extended to social issues, even though it doesn't appear he cares particularly much about them. Despite his "agents of intolerance" broadside against the religious right in 2000, McCain has consistently opposed even basic, bipartisan gay rights legislation like employment non-discrimination and hate crimes protection.

    McCain has opposed on federalism grounds a federal marriage amendment, something both Romney and Huckabee support. But the president doesn't get a vote on constitutional amendments, and the whole idea will be in political nowheresville after the Democrats solidify their control of Congress in November.

    Romney presents something of an enigma. He was targeted by Log Cabin (on non-gay issues) because of the way he reinvented himself on a whole host of social issues to adapt to a more conservative GOP primary electorate. It's a fair question to ask which Romney is closer to his actual core, the moderate Massachusetts governor or the conservative presidential candidate. After all, when John Kerry tacked to the right in 2004, few believed his newfound views were truly his own; why shouldn't we wonder the same about Romney?

    The newly conservative Romney as a nominee would at least present voters a clearer choice between the parties than McCain would. My dream matchup, actually, would be Romney against Obama, since the former's mean-spirited, take-no-prisoners negative campaigning is the perfect contrast to Obama's "new politics." There's a reason why Obama soared when the Clintons went harshly negative, and I believe those tactics would backfire especially with independents even more explosively on Romney.

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    January 17, 2008

    Dems 'Don't Tell' on gays in military

    Posted by: Chris

    080115debatehlarge8pjpgohlarge Lost amid all the headlines about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton calling a truce at Tuesday night's Democratic debate in Nevada was a question by NBC's Tim Russert about whether they would enforce a statute on the books that cuts off all federal funding to colleges and universities that do not allow military recruiters on campus.

    Russert didn't explain that the purpose of the statute, known as the Solomon Amendment, wasn't to override liberal universities opposed to the war or the military generally -- but to block dozens of schools from enforcing non-discrimination policies based on sexual orientation, which prohibit on-campus recruiting by employers unwilling to sign a pledge not to discriminate.

    The military, of course, does discriminate based on sexual orientation, forcing soldiers and sailor who are gay, lesbian and bisexual to hide and lie about who they are and to remain celibate. A group of the nation's most prestigious law schools, including the alma maters of Obama (Harvard Law) and Clinton (Yale Law) challenged the constitutionality of the amendment on First Amendment grounds but lost in a unanimous Supreme Court ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts.

    Unfortunately, most debate viewers were completely unaware of this background because the way the question was put by Russert, the Solomon Amendment came off as a progressive effort to achieve a better balance in the military among poor urban and rural service members and well-off, college-educated youth. Perhaps as a result, all three Democrats promised aggressive enforcement of the Solomon Amendment without even acknowledging the civil rights issue at the heart of it.

    Ditto Russert's follow-up about schools that resist on-campus Reserve Officer Training Corps programs. Some objections may be pacifist, but most are civil rights based, and all three candidates are on record agreeing that "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is wrong, discriminatory and should be repealed. (The full question and responses are excerpted in the jump to this post.)

    The Supreme Court correctly decided the Solomon Amendment case, since the law is viewpoint neutral and schools can still inform students who visit military recruiters about the school's opposition to the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Even still, it was unfortunate that none of the candidates managed to at least raise the issue in their answers.

    Gergen742883 Credit CNN commentator David Gergen, a moderate Republican who also worked in Bill Clinton's administration, for raising the issue at the end of a commentary about the debate:

    A post-script to last night's Democratic debate: Clinton, Edwards and Obama each told Tim Russert they would enforce laws requiring universities to allow military recruiters on campus. As a long-time advocate of restoring ROTC to major universities, I just want to add that a huge stumbling block now is the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of the military, which is seen at many schools as highly discriminatory against gays and lesbians. If that is amended -- as growing numbers in the military think should happen -- we will have a much better chance of persuading schools to honor service in the armed forces in the ways that they should.

    One of the ways to test the candidates' commitment to gay rights is what they say to a general audience when given the opportunity to address gay issues. On that score, all three failed on Tuesday night.

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    January 14, 2008

    Democrats waffle on the web

    Posted by: Chris

    Regular readers of this blog should already feel well-informed about where the leading Democratic presidential candidates stand on LGBT issues and my own view that Barack Obama offers the best choice for gay rights. But side-by-side position comparisons and viewing candidate records aren't the only ways to measure things -- especially on the crucial issue of judging which candidates might say one thing to us now and then do another in office.

    One way to test the level of that danger is by looking to see whether each of the leading Democrats is telling general audiences the same things on gay issues that they’ve promised in more comfy quarters to us directly. After all, if they don’t have the mettle now to tell Democratic primary voters – and anyone else listening in – about where they stand on gay rights, then why should we expect them to stick with us as president when the conservatives invariably turn up the heat?

    One of the first places voters and journalists go to learn a candidate’s position on any issue is the Internet, of course, and all three leading Democrats have put together pages on their campaign websites that outline some – though not necessarily all -- of their gay rights views.

    Keep in mind that even using a “LGBT” link to identify the page is hiding the ball a bit. As common as that acronym is to us, it’s uncommon to a general audience. The campaigns would argue labeling ease, but it’s also a convenient way to target the audience.

    Assuming you’re “LGBT”-hip, then finding each campaign’s gay rights page can be a bit of an adventure. If you start on the home page of Hillary Clinton’s campaign website, it’s next to impossible. Under “issues,” she lists 10 general subjects, from “strengthening the middle class” to “a champion for women.” If for some reason you happen to click on “strengthening our democracy,” then there on the righthand side of the inside page is a link for “LGBT Community,” which takes you to her position page.

    It’s more straightforward on John Edwards’ campaign home page, where if you click onto his “issues” page inside the site and scroll down about two-thirds of the way, there is a link for “LGBT.”

    Only Barack Obama has his “LGBT” link on the home page itself, listed between “Latinos” and “People of Faith” under the header “People” at the top of the page. Even still, if you clicked under “issues” and saw the first link was to “civil rights,” you would find an inside page that deals exclusively with African American issues and includes no “LGBT” link.

    When you get to the candidates’ actual position pages, the contrasts are even more striking.

    John Edwards offers up his overall philosophy on LGBT issues and follows that up with a wide range of positions, including his support on hot buttons like a full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, federal recognition of civil unions, and he is the only one of the three to mention immigration rights for gay binational couples and gay adoption, although the latter is not a federal issue.

    Obama is almost as exhaustive in a fact sheet that the same issues Edwards does except for immigration rights, although that’s covered in another link to Obama’s questionnaire from the Human Rights Campaign. Most importantly, Obama states even more directly than Edwards that he backs “legislation that would ensure that the 1,100+ federal legal rights and benefits currently provided on the basis of marital status are extended to same-sex couples in civil unions and other legally-recognized unions.”

    Clinton’s LGBT page -- titled simply "Fact Sheet," making it harder to access via a Google-type search -- offers a very different picture. No mention is made at all of her support for half-repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, immigration rights or federal recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships. She includes “gender identity” with regard to hate crimes but on employment non-discrimination says only that it should cover “who you are and who you love.” Edwards and Obama were trans-inclusive on both bills.

    Both Obama and Edwards pages also include a series of statements released on gay issues during the course of the campaigns, while Clinton’s is the only one to include her actual record, as opposed to a statement of positions.




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    January 11, 2008

    The Dems on gay immigration rights

    Posted by: Chris

    Passportstuff The gay rights group Immigration Equality has provided a useful summary of where the three leading Democrats for president stand on the Uniting American Families Act, a bill now pending in Congress that would extend to gay Americans the same right that heterosexuals have to sponsor a foreign partner for citizenship.

    The results won't surprise any regular readers of this blog: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all have committed in principle to equal immigration rights and say they support UAFA.

    Still, all three also largely dodged the issue until they were put on record in response to the Human Rights Campaign's candidate questionnaire. None of them has signed on as a cosponsor, including Edwards during his Senate tenure. The reason for that, as I've noted before, lies in concerns that UAFA does not do enough to discourage fraud:

    Hillary Clinton: While I’m supportive of this proposal in principle, I have been concerned about fraud and believe implementation of this provision could strain the capacity of our Citizenship & Immigration Services.

    Barack Obama: As someone who believes that homosexual couples should have the same legal rights as married couples and that our immigration laws should unite families, I support the Uniting American Families Act in concept.  But I also believe that changes need to be made to the bill to minimize the potential for fraud and abuse of the immigration system.

    John Edwards: I believe that all families should be treated in the same manner by our immigration laws.

    Immigration Equality leaves it pretty much at that, but I would add a bit more analysis (imagine that).

    First off, Edwards gets credit for not hedging his support for UAFA and for being the only one of the three who actually mentions immigration rights (although not UAFA specifically) on his campaign website. Then again, we know that John Edwards has a problem telling audiences what they don't want to hear, so color me somewhat skeptical that his actual position differs from either of the frontrunners.

    Hillary Clinton's position raises the most hackles for me because she cites not only the risk of fraud but the "strain" on CIS to implement UAFA. That is effectively saying there is a price tag for our equality and UAFA might be too expensive. If Clinton believes her own rhetoric about equality, then it should be enough that gay Americans are endowed with the same rights, pay the same taxes and deserve the same services from our government as heterosexual Americans.

    Both Clinton and Obama raise the fraud issue, and I know it's a sensitive area for Immigration Equality. The concern is considered overblown, since there is arguably more fraud with gay foreigners using fake heterosexual marriages to be with their American partners, but that's hardly a winning political argument. It's also true that with straight and gay relationships as avenues to U.S. citizenship, the heterosexual variety would be the easier route to fake for most.

    Unfortunately for us, our own mistreatment under U.S. marriage laws undermines somewhat the case for UAFA as written today. Heterosexual couples have to marry to sponsor a foreigner, and as we know marriage is an institution with an enormous number of legal and financial entanglements. Those entanglements -- like risking half your assets upon divorce -- are in and of themselves a healthy deterrent for fraud.

    One way to address that would be to allow gays to marry; but that would obviate the need for UAFA anyway. Since UAFA is a transitionary measure, there need to be proof requirements of financial and legal interdependence that help to provide some of the fraud deterrence that marriage does automatically. That's what Obama's campaign has said in response to inquiries. Clinton's staff, on the other hand, set up a meeting to discuss UAFA issues and then freaked out when news of it went public. Who knows where they are now.

    There is, however, a third way, which would also reduce the need for UAFA, though not entirely. If Congress repeals the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing gay marriages, then we could apply for fiancee and marriage visas just like our heterosexual fellow-citizens. All three leading Dems favor repeal of this half of DOMA.

    The trick would still be over where to marry, since only gays who live in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Mexico (long story) can marry as of today. If the U.S. government recognized gay marriages from other countries -- Canada, Spain, Holland, Belgium and South Africa -- that would also help considerably. The DOMA avenue wouldn't be perfect, but it would be a "path to citizenship" where none exists today.

    So who is best on gay immigration rights? It all depends on which one you think would act most quickly via UAFA or DOMA to address the issue that Barney Frank has called the political perfect storm: gay marriage and immigration all rolled into one. I think you know who my money's on.

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    January 02, 2008

    Obama is best for gay rights

    Posted by: Chris

    Barackhrcforum_6 After more than a year of campaigning in the most wide-open primaries in decades, it’s finally time for voters to pick a president. On the Democratic side, the three hopefuls with a viable shot at the nomination have all signed on to almost every item on the so-called “gay agenda.”

    That includes workplace rights and hate crime protection for gay and transgender Americans, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gays from marrying.

    The differences that do exist come on the politically dicey issue of legal recognition for our relationships. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all support repealing the provision of the infamous “Defense of Marriage Act” that blocks federal recognition of marriage licenses issued to gay couples. But only Obama and Edwards support full repeal of DOMA, including the provision that says each state can choose to ignore gay marriages from other states.

    Hillary Clinton won’t go that far and has stopped short of criticizing her husband for signing DOMA and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law. She and Obama have also declined to sponsor the Uniting American Families Act, which would extend to gay Americans the right to sponsor a non-American partner for citizenship. Then again, Edwards didn’t sign on to UAFA’s predecessor legislation during his Senate tenure, and all three say they support the idea of equal immigration rights in principle.

    All three also support a truly dramatic change in how the federal government treats gay couples, extending recognition not just to gay couples lucky enough to marry in Massachusetts, but also to those who enter into civil unions, domestic partnerships or simply establish that they are in long-term, committed relationships.

    None of the three supports full marriage equality, but that is an issue decided at the state level anyway. The only Democratic presidential hopeful from 2004 and 2008 who does support gay marriage, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, has told his supporters in Iowa to back Obama as their second choice.

    Even though the differences on gay rights among the top three Dems are mostly cosmetic, they each represent starkly different choices. Hillary Clinton is the party’s establishment candidate and a well-known quantity. Her hard-nosed pragmatism is admired by some as a can-do approach, and criticized by others as overly cautious and calculating.

    In probably the most important moment of last fall’s HRC-Logo presidential forum, Hillary seemed completely unmoved by Melissa Etheridge recalling in personal terms how gay Americans felt “thrown under the bus” in the 1990s when Bill Clinton failed to live up as president to the promises he made to gays as a candidate.

    If anything, Hillary is even more cautious than her husband and if elected would face Republicans with knives at the ready on gay issues. Despite many opportunities, she has not given gay voters any reason to believe she would show more leadership on gay rights than her husband did. Fool us once, shame on you; fool us twice, shame on us.

    As good as John Edwards sounds on gay issues, he has established himself as the gay Pander Bear of the primary. In nationally televised debates, the former senator from North Carolina has cited his Southern Baptist upbringing to explain his opposition to gay marriage. Yet somehow his gay supporters say Edwards proved himself our moral champion when he was the only one to disagree right away with Gen. Peter Pace, when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs said last spring that homosexuality is immoral.

    Are we really to believe that in the personal moral view of John Edwards, we are moral enough to fight and die for our country, but not to marry? That sort of nonsense is why generals and presidential candidates ought to leave their religion out of politics.

    But Edwards just can’t resist, and so like Mitt Romney on the Republican side, reinvents himself depending on his audience. With other good choices available, there is no reason to side with someone so slippery.

    Especially when the remaining option is Barack Obama, who like Clinton offers a historic candidacy with the potential to transform American politics. Unlike Clinton – rightly or wrongly – Obama does not polarize the public. Hillary would begin a general election with 46 percent unfavorable ratings – a very small margin to win, not to mention to govern.

    Except on gay marriage, Obama has hit all the right notes on the gay rights issues of the day, and he has refused to pander. He has chastised conservative black pastors and white evangelicals alike for opposing gay rights and aggressive HIV prevention. He even refused the demand from gay activists that he reject the support of Grammy-winning gospel singer Donnie McClurkin because he claims to be “ex-gay.”

    Obama is the only candidate who talks regularly about gay rights, including civil unions, in front of national audiences, and he is the candidate best suited to reach out to independents and Republicans in the general election and in fulfilling the promises he has made as a candidate.

    If you can vote in the Democratic primary where you live, there is no better candidate on gay rights than Barack Obama.

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    December 29, 2007

    Nodding and dodging for Edwards

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwards A week after the Washington Blade's editor Kevin Naff endorsed Hillary Clinton, the gay paper for North and South Carolina, Q Notes, has given its nod to native son John Edwards:

    After a series of meetings between the editors, the staff and the publisher, Q-Notes has endorsed John Edwards for President. His concrete, progressive policy positions (including steadfast support for pro-LGBT issues), his commitment to returning power to the people from moneyed special interests, his outstanding polling strength against the Republicans and his positive impact for down-ticket candidates nationwide combine to make him the best candidate in the race.

    Besides the obvious geographic connection, the Q Notes nod seems to be about factors other than gay issues. Where Naff was persuaded by Hillary's (supposed) electability, Q Notes went for Edwards' angry populist appeal. I can't imagine why a country that has been so divided by cultural issues, war and politics would elect a president who would further divide us by class, but so be it.

    Notably, neither Naff nor Q Notes claims their candidate is best on gay issues, probably because there is little daylight between the Edwards, Clinton and Barack Obama. The same can't be said, however, for Edwards' "official" gay adviser, former Stonewall Dems E.D. Eric Strern.

    Ericstern Flaking for Edwards on the campaign's gay blog, Stern resorts to blatant half truths to completely misrepresent the two gay rights issues on which there actually is some difference between the leading Dems -- gay marriage and immigration rights:

    Edwards supports immigration equality and repealing all portions of [the Defense of Marriage Act] — Hillary and Obama do not. And while John Edwards is not yet a supporter of marriage equality, he has pledged to use the power of the White House to rid the federal laws of anti-gay discrimination and extend all of the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in committed relationships.

    Some of these same half-truths and outright lies have been regularly repeated by Stern and other gay Edwards supporters in other venues. So let's count the misrepesentations:

    1. Edwards supports repealing all portions of DOMA:  Yes, now he does. But when he ran for president just four years ago, he said on national television that he agreed with the same half of DOMA that Hillary wants to preserve: the provision that allows each state to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states.
    2. Obama does not support repealing all portions of DOMA: Wrong and Stern knows it. Back in 2004, the same year Edwards was telling the nation he agreed with half of DOMA, Obama went on record saying he disagreed with DOMA when it was adopted and favored immediate full repeal.
           Stern no doubt bases his claim on candidate questionnaires submitted by Obama in 2003 as part of that same U.S. Senate campaign, in which "no" was checked on whether he favored DOMA repeal. I wrote a post about the discrepancy, which was most likely a campaign error and ought to be explained more completely by Obama himself. Regardless, Obama's position since at least January 2004 -- four years earlier than Edwards' recent reversal -- has been for full repeal of DOMA.
    3. Edwards is "not yet" supporting full marriage equality,  but "has pledged to use the power of the White House to rid the federal laws of anti-gay discrimination and extend all of the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in committed relationships."  Misleading. The "not yet" moniker is especially inapposite, considering Edwards was actually citing his own religious beliefs to justify his opposition to gay marriage in this year's nationally televised Democratic primary debates. When the audience changed and was almost all gay, at the HRC/Logo forum, Edwards was willing to back away from imposing his own religious beliefs.
           As far as federal recognition of civil unions, etc., Edwards has made that commitment, to gay audiences on the gay section of his website and the HRC candidate questionnaire. Clinton and Obama have done the same.  Obama also repeated that commitment to general audiences -- twice on national TV, an MTV candidate forum and the "Ellen Degeneres Show," and also in Des Moines, Iowa.
    4. Edwards supports immigration equality and Hillary and Obama do not. Wrong and Stern knows it. All three of them said they support equal immigration rights for binational couples in response to HRC's candidate questionnaire. Neither Hillary nor Obama has signed on as a cosponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, but then again, Edwards when he was in the Senate didn't cosponsor UAFA's precursor legislation (the Permanent Partners Immigration Act), in either the 108th and 109th Congresses.
           At least Hillary and Obama have explained their reluctance, citing fraud concerns since UAFA offers less effective fraud barriers than marriage is for straight couples. Finally, UAFA would be rendered somewhat unnecessary if the half of DOMA blocking federal recognition of gay marriages is repealed. As noted, all three leading Democrats support that.

    There is even more misleading rhetoric in Stern's argument for Edwards, from making cynical use of Edwards' wife and daughter's views on gay marriage, to dredging up the Donnie McClurkin controversy.

    Actually, the McClurkin flap -- in which Obama camp refused to reject an "ex-gay" Grammy winner invited by his campaign staff to perform on a South Carolina campaign tour -- the Edwardses on marriage, immigration, DOMA -- all of these issues speak to the primary difference between Obama and Edwards (and Clinton, for that matter) on gay issues.

    Edwards is pathological about telling every given audience what they want to hear -- he is the Pander Bear of the 2008 campaign -- and on gay issues he's always great when talking to us while not-so-great or completely silent when speaking to the general public, much less anti-gay crowds.  Maybe that's why Edwards ranked last among  the top three when the Los Angeles Times asked voters nationally whether each candidate says what they really believe or what they think voters want to hear.

    Obama, on the other hand,  talks about civil unions to a national audience and condemns homophobia in the black church to a roomful of African American ministers. And he doesn't pander to us, either, refusing to apply a pro-gay litmus test to his supporters and raising perfectly reasonable concerns about gay rights legislation.

    I would much rather be dealt with honestly and straightforwardly than to be lied and pandered to, but on that score, clearly Eric Stern is perfectly suited to flak on behalf of his candidate, John Edwards.

    H/t: Queerty

    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall_2 For related stories and the breaking news, click or bookmark:  gaynewswatch.com/DemPrimary

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    December 19, 2007

    Edwards moves on marriage

    Posted by: Chris

    Bilde1 The same day John Edwards was endorsed by the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition, an influential gay rights group in the state with the nation's first primary, he said the Defense of Marriage Act was "a mistake from the beginning" and he would work to repeal it as president.

    The press account of that commitment, from the anti-gay Washington Times of all publications, is the first time I've seen Edwards expressly call for full repeal of DOMA:

    "I think we should get rid of DOMA; I think DOMA was a mistake from the beginning, and discriminatory, and so I will do everything in my power as president to do that," the Democratic candidate said in a three-minute meeting with reporters.

    Asked by The Washington Times why the act is discriminatory, he bristled, then said: "I think it's discriminatory against gay and lesbian couples, that's what's discriminatory about it." An Edwards staffer ended the press conference one minute later.

    Edwards' claim that DOMA was "a mistake from the beginning" is a subtle dig at Hillary Clinton, since she has never said the same about the law her husband signed as president and has never since renounced. But it's not new for Edwards. He said the same thing way back in 2004 during a nationally televised Democratic primary debate, when he said he would have joined John Kerry and voted against DOMA had he been in the Senate in 1996. He repeated that same position during the HRC-Logo debate earlier this fall.

    Hillary favors a half-repeal of DOMA, removing the portion that blocks the federal government from recognizing marriage licenses issued by states to gay couples. But she would leave in place the half that permits each state to refuse to recognize gay marriages from other states, under the theory the issue is better decided at the state level.

    (She'd be better off arguing that full repeal of DOMA dramatically increases the risk of a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage entirely. That -- and a built-in Hillary bias -- explain why the Human Rights Campaign only asked the Dems about a half-repeal of DOMA in its candidate questionnaire.)

    Up until yesterday, however, Edwards had never committed to a full repeal, and his unqualified support for a repeal pretty much does that. A week after that 2004 primary debate, ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed Edwards on the issue and he said that he actually agrees with and supports the half of DOMA that allows one state to ignore another state's gay marriages. Whether Edwards has changed his mind about that, or favors a full repeal for the same reason he says he would have voted against DOMA to begin with, is anybody's guess.

    My own guess is that he's tacking his way through the issue, using his wife and daughter's support for gay marriage and his own vague position on DOMA to appeal to gays and progressives while leaving wiggle room for the general election. That's the type of slickness that has always been Edwards' biggest problem, and it contrasts with Barack Obama's specific opposition to both halves of DOMA, when enacted and now for repeal.

    One additional note: When doing research on this post I came across a Washington Blade story from 2004 that included this nugget (sorry but I couldn't find it online to link to it):

    HRC gave Edwards a rating on gay issues of 71 percent for the 106th Congress, which covers 1999 and 2000, his first two years in the Senate. HRC gave him a rating of 100 percent for the 107th Congress, which covers 2001 and 2002.  The HRC rating scorecard shows that Edwards lost points in the 106th Congress for not co-sponsoring the gay civil rights and hate crimes bills at that time.

    HRC's Web site also includes information from the Congressional Record that shows Edwards voted for an amendment introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) in June 2000 that sought to delete the term "sexual orientation" from the hate crimes bill, an action that HRC opposed. However, HRC did not use that vote to dock points from Edwards' score.

    Had it done so, he would have been given a rating of 57 percent for the 106th Congress. HRC spokesperson Steven Fisher said he would review HRC's records to determine whether an error was made on that rating.

    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall For a complete news summary, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/demprimary

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    December 18, 2007

    The 'other Dem' gets a gay nod

    Posted by: Chris

    John_and_stuart_talk_to_john_edward It's not just in the mainstream media that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have hogged almost all the coverage. Most of the attention in the gay press and blogs has been focused on the two Democratic primary frontrunners, with nary a mention of John Edwards, the candidate in third in Iowa and most national surveys.

    When the spotlight has fallen elsewhere, it's either been for also-rans who are prone to gay gaffes (Bill Richardson) or who are especially good on gay issues (Dennis Kucinich and even Mike Gravel).

    Edwards, the 2004 vice presidential nominee, has barely registered on the political gaydar. His only prominent gay endorsement has been from former Clintonite David Mixner, and that was based on the former North Carolina senator's vehement war opposition and commitment to fight poverty. Now Edwards can count at least one more prominent gay nod, from the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition.

    The choice is a curious one, considering Edwards hasn't been much of a factor in New Hampshire, trailing both Clinton and Obama in the state by significant margins. A poll released last week by the Concord Monitor showed the frontrunners locked at 31 and 32 percentage points, respectively, with Edwards at half that amount.

    Given that he's not appreciably better on any gay rights issue than the two more likely to win, then why the endorsement from the New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition?

    "We took a long look at all of the candidates, we met with many of them, and in our judgment, John Edwards's sincere commitment to battling discrimination and ensuring equal rights for every American is unparalleled," the group's executive director, state representative Mo Baxley, said in the release.

    "He and his wonderful wife, Elizabeth, have spent their entire lives fighting for those without a voice and standing up for what is right. John Edwards will be the kind of president we can trust to stand up for everyday Americans."

    The N.H. FTM hasn't posted anything yet on its website about the Edwards nod, so reading between the lines it appears that Edwards' populism -- "fighting for those without a voice" -- won the day for the group and its E.D., a former state rep, who also endorsed Edwards personally.

    The other curiosity, of course, is that Edwards opposes gay marriage and until the HRC-Logo debate cited his own religious views and conservative North Carolina upbringing as policy justifications. For the New Hampshire "Freedom to Marry" Coalition to back him over Obama, when Edwards favors only a half-repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and Obama favors full repeal, is passing strange.


    Gnw_lighthouse_logosmall For a complete news summary, click or bookmark: gaynewswatch.com/demprimary

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    August 10, 2007

    Grade the Dems: Edwards gets a B

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwardshrcforum_2(Don't forget to vote in the Vizu poll in the right column below on which candidate you think did the best last night.)

    Let me just get this out of the way: I don't trust John Edwards. He comes across as all slick and no willie — or Bill Clinton without the substance, as I've said before.

    That said, the man has considerable charm and persuasive skill, from years as a trial lawyer and politician, and he's honed those skills to a fine point for this race, which represents his best and last chance at being president.

    On the issues, Edwards was effective last night, hitting every major policy point, including a few not touched by the others, like gay couple adoption rights, gay-inclusive curriculum in public schools, homeless gay youth, a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and even immigration rights for binational couples ("We have such work to do to keep loving couples together who are separated because of immigration laws that are unfair.").

    The most interesting exchange came again, with my old pal Joe Solmonese, who pressed Edwards on marriage. With almost no prodding, Edwards backtracked on previous occasions when he said his faith led him in part to opposing full marriage equality. It was a point that had stung him in the CNN-YouTube debate, and he was clearly prepared for it here.

    But Edwards did not go on to say what, if not his faith, did lead him to stop at civil unions. Prodded again by Solmonese, Edwards said, "We're past the time for political double-speak on this." Apparently not, since Edwards still never spelled out why he won't support marriage equality.

    He chided Obama for dodging when Solmonese had asked whether he could see why civil unions sound "separate but equal" to most gay people. "It makes perfect sense to me that people would feel" that stops short of "real equality," added Edwards, but then he never explained why then his position hasn't changed. One step forward for candor, two steps back.

    He also took a sideways shot at Hillary Clinton, saying "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" isn't just wrong now, but was wrong when it was adopted. That's a slam on Hillary, who has called it the best that could be done politically at the time. But the shot was a cheap one, as far as I'm concerned. Edwards' early Senate record from the late '90s was decidedly mixed on gay rights, and I have zero doubt that if he'd been in the Senate way back in 1993, he would have gone along with Sam Nunn and other Southern Democrats in the DADT "compromise."

    Further evidence of that? DOMA. Edwards also said the Defense of Marriage Act was "wrong then and is now," and yet when he ran for president last time around he defended the half of DOMA that allows one
    state to refuse recognition of gay marriages from other states. In fact, I've nowhere seen Edwards specifically commit to full repeal of DOMA. If he did last night, it was for the first time.

    Jonathan Capehart picked up that line, pushing Edwards to explain why we should believe he would defend our rights when the politics get heated, considering how he and running mate John Kerry did everything but just a few short years ago. Edwards never explained his previous reticence, and his promise of future support rang hollow — at least to me.

    Here's the full 15 minutes of Edwards during the forum:

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    August 08, 2007

    Ask the Dems: John Edwards

    Posted by: Chris

    Johnedwards Regular readers of this blog (or my take on things while editing gay newspapers) already know that I'm not a huge fan of John Edwards.  He strikes me as a Bill Clinton "who hasn't read the books," as former aide Bob Shrum put it. That means all the former president's "feel your pain," but without his gravity as a policymaker.

    Nonetheless, he has hit some strong notes on gay-related issues, so much so that I marked him the "front-runner" on gay issues at one point, at least before the Human Rights Campaign questionnaire came out, making clear that all the leading Dems back a full range of federal legal recognition of gay couples in civil unions and other long-term relationships.

    It was a long way from Edwards' weak record on gay rights in his first term as a senator from conservative North Carolina, offering fertile territory for his tough debate question:

    Senator Edwards, you’ve talked about your “personal journey” on gay marriage, but the description also applies to your overall gay rights record. A former top aide of yours wrote in his memoir that you once said you weren’t “comfortable around those people,” meaning gays, and you received a 66 out of 100 from HRC during your first term in the Senate. Is your support today for gay rights today real, or are you Mitt Romney, the pro-gay Republican from Massachusetts who's now anti-gay, in reverse?

    Previous questions:
    Dennis Kucinich
    Joe Biden (not attending)
    Chris Dodd (cancelled)
    Bill Richardson

    Hillary Clinton
    Barack Obama

    For a complete summary of gay issues in the presidential race, go to: http://www.gaynewswatch.com/whitehouse08

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    June 05, 2007

    Was the fix in for Hillary?

    Posted by: Chris

    Hillarystares It's fascinating to see how Hillary Clinton's candidacy has the ability to polarize, not just among the left and right of American politics, but within constituencies.  Consider the split-screen, almost schizophrenic reaction to the release this weekend by the Human Rights Campaign of its "report card" on the Democratic presidential candidates.

    Ben Smith, blogging at The Politico, saw a Hillary headline in the HRC release:

    The news … seems to be that Hillary is repudiating her long (if tepidly) held support for the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband signed, and which drew her criticism in New York. 

    Smith quotes Clinton spokesman Phil Singer confirming, however, that Hillary still supports the one-half of the Defense of Marriage Act that allows states to refuse gay marriages from other states. That drew scorn from the gay left, where bloggers like Pam Spaulding questioned "sHillary's" position as half-hearted:

    It was obviously not ok for states to prevent people of different races from marrying back in the day (that was overturned by Loving v. Virginia in 1967), but Hillary Clinton is saying that it is ok for a state to apply that discriminatory thinking when the couple is gay or lesbian in 2007. That renders CUs legally unequal when you cross state lines.

    In similar fashion, conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan suspects HRC may have "rigged" the report card for "the other HRC" — Hillary Rodham Clinton — by masking her continued support for half of DOMA. Gay Republican blogger Boi From Troy sees it the same way:

    I had grown some respect for Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton yesterday when I read that in a survey for the Human Rights Campaign, she had repudiated her support for the Defense of Marriage Act and was now opposed. It would take a pair to disagree with a policy signed into law by your husband!

    But it looks like defending her own marriage is more important that standing up for the equal rights of all Americans to marry, as the New York Senator is backtracking, telling The Politico that in her own responses to HRC, “she distances herself from a central plank of DOMA — its bar on the federal recognition of same-sex marriages — but not from the portion which allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.”

    What makes all this fascinating is that Hillary's position on marriage and DOMA is exactly the same as four of the other six candidates who responded to HRC.  Only Barack Obama and Dennis Kucinich favor full repeal of DOMA.

    Despite all this flak from the Net roots about Hillary selling gays short on marriage, the headline in the MSM is that she's practically backing full marriage equality!  Patrick Healy asks today on the New York Times blog "The Caucus": "Is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton preparing to endorse gay marriage?":

    Her advisers say no – she supports civil unions only – and gay rights advocates who work with Mrs. Clinton say she has not promised them anything. Yet these advocates also say that Mrs. Clinton is inching, in her famously incremental way, toward a policy position that might at least open the door to gay marriage.

    So did HRC rig things for Hillary, or is she truly out front on marriage, inching her way to a full-fledged endorsement? Well, the way the HRC questionnaire frames the issues does mask some important differences in ways that benefit Hillary the most.

    Obama gets no credit for being the only candidate (besides Kucinich) who opposed DOMA since it was first proposed a decade ago.  As noted, he’s also the only one (besides Kucinich) who now favors its full repeal.

    On “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Hillary is rated the same as the rest for favoring repeal, even though as recently as this week’s New Hampshire candidate debate she still defended her husband’s support for the 1996 “compromise” on gays in the military as “an important first step.”

    HRC shows Clinton and Obama as supporting gay immigration rights even though both hedged in their questionnaire answers, saying UAFA should be toughened to address fraud concerns. HRC didn’t even ask the candidates where they stood on ending the ban on immigration by people with HIV.

    The report card doesn’t try to tally leadership, of course, and the biggest deficiency of Democrats at the federal level has been their inability to translate pro-gay rhetoric into law.

    Of the seven candidates, only Bill Richardson of New Mexico has shown leadership in actually enacting gay rights, having managed workplace protections, a hate crime law and employee D.P. benefits in his first term as governor of a “red state.” He even called his legislature into special session this year to try for statewide domestic partnership, although the measure failed.

    You wouldn’t know any of that from reading the HRC report card, which added up check marks in a way that makes all seven Democrats look equally good on gay and HIV issues, a blurring of the lines that did benefit Hillary the most.

    My own guess is that HRC set things up not only to favor “the other HRC” but Democrats generally, since the party’s most likely nominees are not as strong on gay rights as those in the second and third tier, especially Richardson, Kucinich and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd.

    It’s still a huge achievement for HRC to have all these candidates on record backing full federal recognition for gay couples. The race for president often redefines a party’s positions on issues generally, and the HRC questionnaire has raised the “floor” of what we can expect from Democrats — and any politician who claims to be “gay friendly.”

    For a comprehensive look at gay immigration rights, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.

    For a comprehensive look at gay issues in the U.S. presidential race, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.

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    June 02, 2007

    Dems back federal rights for gays

    Posted by: Chris

    Demsdebate UPDATE: At the end of the post.

    Very big news today from the Human Rights Campaign, which released its "report card" that shows all seven Democratic presidential candidates back full federal rights for gay couples, including:

    • equal tax treatment
    • Social Security survivor benefits
    • immigration rights (UAFA)
    • inclusion in the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
    • domestic partner benefits for gay federal workers

    There's also a full commitment on trans-inclusion and complete support and agreement on every issue raised by the questionnaire except on marriage equality.  As we already knew, only Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich supports that.

    All the details are in a special report I've posted here on Gay News Watch.  HRC did not release the actual candidate questionnaires, but I have asked for copies and will post them.

    UPDATE:  I've now received all seven candidate questionnaires from HRC and the links to each are at the bottom of the article here.

    For a comprehensive look at gay issues in the presidential campaign, click here for the Gay News Watch summary.

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    To my transgender sisters…

    Posted by: Chris

    Transrestroomblog UPDATE: This post, like my later post on UAFA, was scooped by news today from HRC that all seven Democratic presidential candidates back inclusion of gender identity in both ENDA and hate crimes legislation, though none is on record favoring HRC's "suicide strategy" on the issue.

    I know some of my transgender sisters question my commitment to their equality, but let me be the first (I think) to point out where the top-three Democrats on in inclusion of gender identiy in federal hate crimes legislation (where I support it) and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (where I support in principle adding it at some later date, but oppose its inclusion now).

    As I pointed out previously, John Edwards came out for transgender protection in both pieces of legislation as part of his response to the Human Rights Campaign questionnaire:


    • Workers should be judged by the quality of their performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.
    • We should strengthen the ability of law enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, gender, religion national origin, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity.

    Hillary Clinton made no mention of adding trans protections to ENDA in her gay-issues position paper, released last week, but did back inclusion of gender identity in hate crime laws:

    She will strengthen law enforcement and prosecution against discriminatory acts of violence against gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals by signing the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.

    She did say, however, in an interview with LGNY editor Paul Schindler during her 2000 Senate campaign that she supports inclusion of gender identity into ENDA in principle, just not in practice (sounds familiar!):

    lgny: Do you think the goal of broadening the language for ENDA or broadening language in the hate crimes protection act to include gender expression and gender identity, do you think that's a practical goal at this point politically?

    Clinton: I think we need to try to move ENDA forward. I think ENDA is such an important legislative goal. I think it's within reach and I think it's a vehicle for widening the circle of rights and freedoms and responsibilities and I would really focus on trying to get that passed.

    lgny: In other words, no effort at this point at amending?

    Clinton: I don't see at this point that that would be in the best interest of moving the agenda forward.

    lgny: What I understand your answer to be is that laudable as that goal might be it might slow the political process down.

    Clinton: Well I think that's probably accurate. It may not be the answer people want to hear, but I think it's accurate. We should do everything we can to get ENDA to pass. Legislation is often imperfect at best, and not as inclusive as it needs to be, but you have to build on your victories. Right now we don't have ENDA. I think about the fact that we don't have the hate crimes legislation.

    Last fall, during an on-the-record conversation with gay and transgender activists, Clinton dodged the question in a way that suggests her position hasn't changed. Gay City News reported at the time:

    Asked by Melissa Sklarz, a transgendered activist who is a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats, if she would support the inclusion of gender identity and expression protections in the long-stalled federal employment nondiscrimination act, or ENDA, Clinton noted that the federal hate crimes measure also lacks such language, but said only, "We are very aware of that and we are raising that."

    Obamaprofile Obama avoided the issue entirely in his gay rights position paper.  He was more vocal in his support for trans rights during his 2004 campaign for the U.S. Senate.  Check out this February '04 interview with Windy City Times editor Tracy Baim:

    WCT: Talk about your record on hate crimes.

    Obama: I have been a strong advocate for hate-crimes legislation at the state level. I would continue to be an equally strong advocate at the federal level. I absolutely think that sexual orientation has to be included in all hate-crimes legislation.

    WCT: Gender identity as well?

    Obama: Absolutely. The transgendered community has to be protected. I just don’t have any tolerance for that sort of intolerance. And I think we need to legislate aggressively to protect them.

    WCT: Do you support adding gender identity to the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act?

    Obama: Yes. I think this is a difficult question because it touches on, for example, the rights of schools or other public institutions that may be concerned about a transgendered person in positions of authority. I would think the political resistance on that would be fierce. I’d have to look at the language.

    All in all, that puts Clinton and Obama in about the same place on the key trans rights issues: support for inclusion in hate crime laws and ambivalence about adding gender identity to ENDA.  Edwards, on the other hand, was unequivocal in his support on both.  Even Edwards, it should be noted, stopped short of the strategically suicidal position backed by the Task Force and the Human Rights Campaign, which is to actually oppose workplace rights and hate crime protections for gay Americans unless transgender protections can be adopted at the same time.

    There's not a lot of daylight, then, between the top three, though we'll have to wait and see whether Clinton and Obama reaffirm their previous positions when their HRC questionnaires are made public in the next week or so. I'm sure my most vociferous transgender critics will not be satisfied with these commitments, but they are enough for me — and most gay and trans-friendly Americans, I'm guessing.

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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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