LGBT rights supporters were listening intently as President Obama delivered the State of the Union address Wednesday night for some faint sign of the fierce advocate we were promised when raising money, knocking on doors and voting in droves for him.
This issue of the DC Agenda went to press before the speech, amid much speculation about just what Obama would say related to LGBT issues. At the very least, the president needed to reference the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and address just how he plans to deliver on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to repeal it.
Of all the LGBT-related initiatives, repealing this unjust law is perhaps the least controversial. Several recent polls have put American public support for repeal at 75 percent or higher; a House bill sponsored by Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.) has attracted nearly 200 co-sponsors.
So will Obama include repeal as part of his 2011 Defense spending request, as many have speculated? Or will he use his bully pulpit, clout and remaining political capital to demand a legislative repeal and publicly endorse Murphy’s bill? Either way, Obama must send a message about his intent or risk further inflaming the restive Democratic Party base already upset at his inertia on this and other issues.
Even with the loss of one Massachusetts Senate seat last week, the Democrats still command powerful majorities in both chambers of Congress. Scott Brown’s victory is no excuse for delaying the LGBT legislative agenda.
Brown overcame a double-digit lead by milquetoast candidate Martha Coakley, the state attorney general, to become the junior senator from Massachusetts.
As a Maryland resident, I had a front row seat to what I’d previously considered the worst campaign ever run: that of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend for governor in 2002. She lost to Republican Robert Ehrlich, who became Maryland’s first GOP governor in more than 30 years.
Then came Coakley, whose campaign ominously mirrored that of Kennedy Townsend: A well-known female candidate with solid credentials on paper but who lacked charisma. More deadly to a political campaign: taking votes for granted, failing to excite the base and, worst of all, failing to connect with independent voters who decide elections.
In fairness to Coakley, she ran smack into the GOP’s fear mongering over health care reform, handing Brown a plum opportunity to run as a faux populist ready to march into Washington and derail a costly plan that probably no one fully understands.
The implications for the LGBT rights agenda could be grave. The mid-term elections loom and many conservative Democrats, already known for their lack of spine, will surely run for cover from our issues.
And despite wishful thinking from the folks at GOProud, Scott Brown will be an obstacle to pro-LGBT advances in Congress. GOProud’s Christopher Barron wrote for DC Agenda, “The gay left, always willing to do the bidding of the DNC, is attempting to characterize Scott Brown as ‘anti-gay.’ This paper ran a headline that blared ‘Could an anti-gay Republican win Kennedy’s seat?”
I wrote that headline and here’s why:
- In 2007, Brown voted for a failed state constitutional amendment that would have ended same-sex marriage in Massachusetts;
- He opposes repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, even though it would benefit residents of his own state who are legally wed there;
- Brown opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, according to MassEquality;
- And he opposes repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” according to MassEquality.
It’s not enough to wish for moderate, gay-friendly Republican candidates. Log Cabin and GOProud should give us a reason to trust such politicians by meeting with them, securing promises related to our issues and taking a seat at the table with them. Barron is right that the Democrats have delivered precious little after a full year with overwhelming majorities in Congress and control of the White House. President Obama’s cautious approach and his quest for consensus building with Republicans who are bent on opposing his every move have failed to deliver the change he promised. Obama has gone from fierce advocate to paper champion.
But turning to someone like Scott Brown as a means of protesting the Democrats’ slow going will only set back the congressional agenda.
Luckily, we have a few Democrats who aren’t afraid to take up LGBT causes. Reps. Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, Patrick Murphy and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, to name a few, must now redouble their efforts to advance ENDA and a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” before the fall.
By then, the political math will be far worse for Democrats. Maybe Coakley’s embarrassing loss will teach the party to assert itself again, to make the most of their current majorities, to reconnect with independents and to improve their messaging. If not, they face the very real prospect of losing the House this year.
Kevin Naff is editor of DC Agenda. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.