Are Democrats Throwing Gays Under the Bus?


With just over three weeks until the elections, it seems a pretty certain bet that most of the LGBT community will vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden, though with curtailed enthusiasm after numerous missteps.

But electoral support does not mean surrendering the right to critique and hold the candidates or the Democratic Party accountable. Indeed, it is the obligation of citizenship to call out disparities between avowed principles and actions that conflict with those principles. If the actions are not corrected, at least the credit-card promises are de-mythologized and once starry-eyed voters will not be surprised when the disappointing compromise bills come due.

So let's stipulate that Obama has captured most of the LGBT vote. After all, LGBT people have been deeply impacted by the Bush-Cheney-Rove regime and can't wait to exhale. But frankly, it seems the Obama camp and the Democratic Party just aren't all that into us anymore.

Let's also stipulate these facts: Obama's deputy campaign manager Steve Hildebrand is gay; Obama's gay outreach is light-years ahead of the McCain camp's publicized acceptance of Log Cabin's endorsement at the GOP convention; and the DNC's Inclusion Rule, in conjunction with Gov. Howard Dean's 50-state strategy and executed by the National Stonewall Democrats, yielded the largest ever contingent of LGBT delegates and participants to the Democratic Convention and laid a possible foundation for future inclusion.

But none of that translated to viewers of the Democratic Convention -- which I wrote about in "Requiem for Gay Political Power." From my seat glued to the TV, it looked like a shameful replay of 2004 when the LGBT community agreed to invisibility for the "greater good" of electing John Kerry.

It didn't matter. We were blamed for Kerry's loss anyway -- ostensibly because we brought about the eleven anti-gay marriage initiatives in battleground states, not Karl Rove -- by wanting full equality "too fast."

So here we are in 2008 and what's changed, really? There are anti-gay marriage initiatives in California, Arizona, and Florida. But who's paying attention, other than the LGBT community and its allies, and the well-funded Religious Right for whom this is the ultimate spiritual warfare, as described by TheCall?

The focus here is Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment on the November ballot in California that would eliminate the right of same sex couples to marry. That right was recognized by the Republican-dominated California Supreme Court May 15, a ruling in which the court also called gay people a "suspect class" or minority deserving equal protection under the law.

But this fight goes beyond the "fundamental" right of same sex couples to marry. If Prop 8 passes, it would be an ugly addition to U.S. history (remember the Jim Crow laws and the Japanese Interment, to mention a couple) where a majority has stripped rights away from a minority.

Yet, so far the DNC and the Obama campaign have issued plenty of statements with no action.

Here's the record:
-- On May 3, 2006, the DNC hired longtime LGBT politico Brian Bond to handle the LGBT constituency. Dean said:

"The Democratic Party has a long history of standing against discrimination and standing up for equal rights for every American. Unfortunately, the Republicans are again taking a page from the Karl Rove playbook and using issues to scapegoat the LGBT community with the divisive Federal Marriage Amendment and hate-filled ballot initiatives aimed at dividing and distracting America from critical issues facing our country. Brian will help lead our fight to end the Republican politics of fear and division."

-- May 10, 2006. In Bond's first interview, he is asked if the DNC has a strategy to combat the ballot initiatives. Bond said:

"I would say yes, but I think you have to look at this in both a short-term and long-term context. In the short term, clearly strategy is being put in place."

If such a strategy existed, it failed in California, Arizona and Florida.

-- Feb. 2008, Equality California, the statewide LGBT lobbying group, launched the "Decline to Sign" campaign trying to prevent the anti-gay and the New Jersey-based National Organization for Marriage from gathering enough petition signatures to qualify the ballot initiative. According to the Secretary of State's website, the DNC contributed $25,000 (the California Democratic Party contributed nothing) but the petition qualified with over one million signatures.

-- On May 15, the Obama campaign released a statement about the marriage ruling:

"On the issue of constitutional amendments, Senator Obama has been on record for some time: He opposes all divisive and discriminatory constitutional amendments, state or federal. That includes the proposed amendments in California and Florida."

The Obamas made similar statements in March, June and July.

-- The DNC also issued a statement:

"The Supreme Court of California today took a step forward in the long march toward protecting equal rights under the law for every American. This should not be a matter of politics or partisanship; it is a matter of protecting the rights and dignity of all American families."

In August, the Democratic Party Platform included this:

"We all have to do our part to lift up this country, and that means changing hearts and changing minds, and making sure that every American is treated equally under the law.... We oppose the Defense of Marriage Act and all attempts to use this issue to divide us."

But while the Democratic Party has helped the No on Prop 8 campaign on the ground, the DNC has made no financial contribution to fight Prop 8 since the "Decline to Sign" campaign. Nor has Obama publicly mentioned the grave and historic fight to retain this minority right. One wonders if there would be such silence and benign neglect if an initiative threatened to take away an existing right of the African American, Latino, Asian or Jewish communities.

How ironic that this fight falls during the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard's hate crime-murder, about which
Cathy Renna notes
: "The sense of being "other" is still a constant feature for many of us, even those who try to assimilate as much as possible and proclaim that they're just ordinary citizens like everyone else."

But the cruelest blow came when Biden agreed with GOP candidate Sarah Palin about same sex marriage during the vice presidential debate. His comments are now highlighted on the Yes on 8/ProtectMarriage website.

Obama has steadfastly opposed same sex civil marriage because, he told evangelist Rick Warren, as a Christian,

"God's in the mix....I am not somebody who promotes same sex marriage, but I do believe in civil unions. I do believe that we should not -- that for gay partners to want to visit each other in a hospital for the state to say, you know what, that's all right, I don't think in any way inhibits my core beliefs about what marriage are."

The conflation of a civil marriage right with a private religious belief and the argument in favor of "separate but equal" by a constitutional lawyer is jarring. But the political ramifications could be catastrophic for gays, as the New York Times pointed out last September.

"Mr. Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, is against the measure. But opponents of the proposed ban worry that many black voters, enthused by Mr. Obama's candidacy but traditionally conservative on issues involving homosexuality, could pour into voting stations in record numbers to punch the Obama ticket -- and then cast a vote for Proposition 8."

In a statement released Oct. 12 commemorating the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's death, Obama said:

"All Americans deserve to live their lives free of fear, and as Americans, it is our moral obligation to stand up against bigotry and strive for equality for all."

The LGBT community has achieved equality in California, yet where is that "moral obligation" when it comes to fighting like hell to retain it? Where are the robocalls to targeted communities or the training to teach new young voters how to vote down-ticket and why the propositions are important?

While deflated gays expressed anguish -- or excused Biden -- amongst ourselves, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom went public with his "frustration." Because of his courageous principled stand on marriage equality, Newsom is the not-so-unexpected "star" of the first Yes on 8 commercial.

Newsom told the Long Beach Lambda Democratic Club Oct. 5:

"It was very frustrating for someone who has done fundraisers for Senator Biden - who believes in him, who is excited about him, his future, and the future of this country with him as vice-president -- that he agreed [with Palin]. That somehow a party that has always stood for the principles of human rights on women's rights, on civil rights, on environmental justice and labor rights -- that somehow today, our party leadership is arguing that separate is now somehow equal -- but only for the gay community. That's wrong. And we've got to call them out on it."

What's even more frustrating is that the DNC and the Obama campaign are throwing two major fundraisers in Southern California at a time when the No on Prop 8 campaign is begging for money.

The campaign is in such dire straights that they released their internal polling conducted by Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners -- which was matched by another poll taken by SurveyUSA -- showing Prop 8 winning by four points, which the No on Prop 8 campaign attributed to the widespread airing of anti-gay Yes on 8 commercials. They said the Yes on 8 campaign reported raising roughly $26 million (over 40 percent from the Mormon Church), compared to roughly $16 by No on Prop 8.

Tickets for the non-gay Biden fundraiser at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood are $500 each, $5,000 for a VIP dinner.

Another fundraiser in Palm Springs, featuring Rep. Barney Frank and singer Rufus Wainwright is being held the day after an EQCA/No on Prop 8 fundraiser -- and some gays have canceled their No on Prop 8 tickets to attend the Barney Frank event.

The upshot: the DNC and the Obama campaign are taking money out of California at a time when Obama is leading in the national polls and has so much money he can buy 30 minute blocks of primetime television on three networks. No one from the DNC replied to my request for a response and the gay Obama supporters referred me to his previous statements.

(Perhaps not so coincidentally, the SurveyUSA poll also showed the anti-abortion rights Proposition 4 -- the Parental notification measure -- also passing. Another core Democratic value ignored.)

If Prop 8 passes, will we consider the DNC and the Obama campaign complicit in our defeat?
Right now, the No on Prop 8 campaign is being supported by generous LGBT and straight donors, hundreds of grassroots volunteers across the nation, unions such as the California Teachers Association and the Service Employees International Union and LGBT non-profits who understand that the future of their organizations are at stake.

So while Obama and the Democratic Party say they stand for the principle of equality for all, when it comes to gay people -- they appear to be sitting this one out. And if Prop 8 passes, their handprints will be on our backs -- having pushed us under the proverbial bus.