Eight years ago, LGBT voters were hungry for Hillary Clinton to make major change on their behalf when she ran for president following two terms of anti-gay attacks under the Bush administration.
Pushing her along in making commitments to advance LGBT rights was her bruising primary with then-Sen. Barack Obama, who ultimately bested her to win the Democratic nomination.
Both were largely on the same page with major requests from the LGBT community, pledging to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and sign the Employment Non-Discrimination Act into law.
One distinction was that while Obama called for full repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, Clinton only backed lifting Section 3 of the law, the plank that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage. Neither candidate at the time supported same-sex marriage, although both came to support it years later.
But as she begins her second attempt to win the White House, most of those requests have been accomplished after more than six years of the Obama administration, which gives her less to talk about in terms of LGBT issues.
Moreover, the apparent lack of competition in the primary (according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll last month, she enjoys a whopping 50-point lead over any other potential Democratic candidate) also gives her less of a reason to discuss LGBT issues.
The recent kick-off of her campaign raises a question: Will the LGBT community demand Clinton advance its rights in her pursuit of the White House, or will the focus be on rallying support to elect her?
Richard Socarides, a gay New York Democratic activist and adviser on gay rights to former President Bill Clinton, said he expects the former secretary of state to articulate a path forward on LGBT issues.
“I think elections are always about the future as it should be, so I think that people will want to look to her for new ideas and ways we can advance the LGBT community’s interests over the course of the next six to 10 years,” Socarides. “So, I think people can expect from her and rightly so, her vision for the future on LGBT issues.”
Among the ideas that Socarides said Clinton should embrace in the aftermath of a Supreme Court ruling on marriage are: comprehensive federal legislation against LGBT discrimination; transgender rights; and addressing “under the surface” discrimination that prevents LGBT people from reaching their full potential.
But Socarides acknowledged support for Clinton among LGBT people, including himself, is already strong, and noted the inclusion of same-sex couples in her campaign announcement video.
“I think she is off to an excellent start in very directly embracing marriage equality and our community by for the first time ever featuring us in her announcement,” Socarides said. “I do think that there is a lot of warmth and good feeling about her, and I think that many people in the LGBT community connect with her emotionally, as I do, and so I think that’s exciting, too.”
But strong support from the LGBT community for Clinton’s candidacy isn’t universal in the aftermath of the 1990s when her husband signed into law “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Dan Pinello, who’s gay and a political scientist at the City University of New York, said LGBT people who remember those times “may not rush to jump on board another Clinton bandwagon.”
“I think that some in the LGBT community, particularly those who were politically aware and active in the 1990s, will recall that the Clintons weren’t reliable supporters of our rights,” Pinello said. “After all, Bill Clinton voluntarily signed into law both ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and DOMA — after his surrogates in 1992 campaigned in gay bars and other LGBT venues to say that a Clinton administration would be responsive to our community. A lot of good that did.”
Pinello also dismissed the importance of Clinton or any other presidential candidate’s support for pro-LGBT legislation at the federal level, saying Republicans are likely to retain both chambers of Congress after 2016 and “there’s not a lot she/he could achieve for the LGBT agenda in the near term.”
Although Clinton came out for marriage equality in 2013, questions about whether she thinks state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional persisted after an interview with National Public Radio in which she talked about a state-by-state approach to the issue. But the Clinton campaign cleared up her position on Wednesday in a statement to the Washington Blade.
“Hillary Clinton supports marriage equality and hopes the Supreme Court will come down on the side of same-sex couples being guaranteed that constitutional right,” said Adrienne Elrod, spokesperson for Hillary for America.
Even before Clinton clarified her position on marriage, major LGBT groups this week said they want Clinton to advance LGBT rights when asked by the Blade, but many were vague on the details.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said in a statement to the Blade that change for LGBT people should be a priority in next year’s election.
“LGBTQ freedom, justice and equality should be a top priority for all the presidential candidates,” Carey said.
The Task Force no longer has a political action committee and doesn’t endorse presidential candidates.
Upon Clinton’s campaign announcement, Log Cabin Republicans called on her to answer questions about LGBT issues as she proceeds with her campaign.
Among those questions was whether she still thinks marriage is an issue that should be left to the states, if she supports the Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by her husband, whether she backs comprehensive non-discrimination legislation and, most Republican of all, whether she backs repeal of the estate tax.
“With her candidacy formally declared, Mrs. Clinton now has the duty of providing answers to numerous questions that should give LGBT voters and allies pause, regardless of party affiliation,” Log Cabin’s Gregory Angelo said in a statement.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said he expects a confluence of support for Clinton from LGBT people and leadership from her on LGBT issues based on her history.
“Throughout her career, Secretary Clinton has been a consistent advocate not just for LGBT people, but for all kinds of Americans that deserve better from their country,” Sainz said. “Her distinguished record of advocacy throughout the years — on behalf of children, women, LGBT people and the middle class — make her keenly aware that there is plenty of work to do to make our society more just and equal for all of its citizens. Like we always do, we will aggressively advocate for our community. The good news is that we’ll have a willing ear and an open heart in Secretary Clinton.”