In an article penned by Chris Johnson of The Washington Blade, "Clinton surrogates pounce on Sanders over '82 marriage resolution," Clinton supporters NYS Senator Brad Hoylman (through his chief of staff, Peter Ajemian), former NYC Speaker Christine Quinn, and former conservative GOProud founder Jimmy LaSalvia accuse Bernie Sanders of having been against marriage equality because he signed a resolution in 1982 supporting the "We Believe in Marriage Week":
The attack was initiated when Jonathan Allen, who first "reported" this "story," uncovered the resolution Sanders signed as mayor of Burlington, CT in 1982. Allen is regarded as a political lapdog of the Democratic Party establishment. He worked for DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who was a co-chair of Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign and co-authored Hillary's biography.
However, Allen's assertion has a fatal flaw. Nothing could be further from the truth than the theory he offers as proof positive that Bernie supported marriage as only between a man and a woman. A look at the facts in their historical context determines the (in)significance of this potentially slanderous accusation by the Clinton camp, which Williamson L. Henderson, V, Chairman of the STONEWALL Rebellion Veterans' Association (SVA), called "a complete distortion of the reality of the time."
Fact #1: This is a resolution of the Board of Aldermen (which essentially is their city council) of Burlington, Vermont. A resolution is a statement supported by at least a majority of a governing body.
Fact #2: A mayor routinely signs proclamations and resolutions proffered by legislative bodies on a wide number of topics and subjects. Such proclamations are not bills and do not become law. Rather, they are official statements supported by a majority of the governing body.
Fact #3: This particular resolution supports "We Believe in Marriage Week," a nation-wide attempt to stem the rising tide of divorce and single parenthood sweeping the nation, which other boards of aldermen supported via similar resolutions declaring the week from February 14-20, 1982 as such.
Fact #4: The rising divorce rate and increase in the number of out-of-wedlock children being born were of particular unilateral, bipartisan concern, according to Henderson. Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan (whom Clinton replaced when she ran for Senator in New York in 2000) issued a report in 1965 essentially decrying a condemnation into poverty, particularly of minority families, who were being broken apart due to divorce and single-parenthood.
Fact #5: The terms "family values" and "traditional marriage" did not have the anti-LGBTQ meaning in 1982 that they do today. They were, instead, concerns over the family unit falling apart due to an increase in divorce and out-of-wedlock childbirth.
Henderson further stated, "It is completely hypocritical to attack someone who has made it crystal clear that he is 100% for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality by digging up something that took place over 30 years ago, twisting the truth to use in a political attack."
In 1982, nobody in the LGBTQ community was fighting for the right to marry. "In an interview in the 1970s, when asked about the prospects for gay marriage, Frank Kameny laughed and dismissed the notion. He said it was something gay men would never ask for," recalled David Wallace, an LGBTQ activist, historian, and videographer.
Neither was it seriously on the agenda more than a decade later. In 1999, the first openly-lesbian elected official in New York State, NYS Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick (D-NY) held a debate on the issue of marriage equality with William K. Schmidt, the first openly gay Republican from Peekskill, NY who was running for the Peekskill City Council: "She was vehemently opposed to marriage equality, calling it a bourgeois institution," Schmidt, the first elected official in NY to sign a statewide petition for marriage equality, recalled.
As I have previously written about on my blog, the LGBTQ community is losing its history, as well as its core values. If younger members of our community were more connected with our elders, this sort of political attack never would have been allowed. "In 1982, the community was just beginning to coalesce around what then was called GRID (which we now know to be AIDS)," Wallace interjected.
In fact, at the time this resolution was passed, there were no legal protections for LGBTQ individuals anywhere in the USA! One month later, Wisconsin became the first state to ban discrimination on the basis of sexuality. When Sanders passed a city ordinance banning discrimination against gays and lesbians a year later, he was at he forefront of the LGBTQ rights movement.
Speaker Quinn (whom I heartily endorsed when she ran for Mayor of NYC in 2013), Senator Hoylman, and Mr. LaSalvia are all old enough to know better. They lived through the culture of the time in 1982, when police were conducting raids and mass arrests of gay and lesbian individuals, often facing up to 20 or more years in prison for the "crime" of being gay.
"It clearly is an utterly pathetic and preposterous act of desperation that insults people's intelligence. To quote Shakespeare, it's much ado about nothing, and it's not going to work," Schmidt, who now identifies as Libertarian, stated.
"This is no surprise, coming from a woman who supported her husband's signing into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) over a decade later and who herself did not support marriage equality until 2013. Neither she nor any of her surrogates have ever supported the SVA or our members," Henderson scoffed.
Disclosure: I am an active supporter of the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders.
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