Because of the vitriolic Republican rhetoric around same-sex marriage, the LGBT community is almost certainly going to line up in support of the Democrats. Indeed in the 2012 election around 76% of LGBT people supported President Obama, and this support for a candidate whose record on LGBT rights was okay. However I do not understand one fact of this 2016 primary; although opinion is split on which Democratic candidate to support, many people in the LGBT community are enthusiastic supporters of Hillary Clinton. This support is a result of circumstances out of her control, but these LGBT Americans are supporting the wrong Democratic candidate.
Many prominent members of equal rights organisations are coming out (pardon the pun) in favour of Hillary Clinton, and there are many people in the LGBT community that are considered as loyal supporters. The reason for this, I believe, is two fold. As identified by the pro-Clinton group Ready for Hillary, many LGBT people support Clinton because “she has been personally attacked and beaten up, politically speaking”; the rationale being that historically oppressed minority groups, like African-Americans and LGBT people, see these attacks on Clinton and essentially stand in solidarity with her.
To be honest this logic makes some amount of sense, but an interesting thing that was pointed out by a representative of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund is that Clinton’s support isn’t necessarily about her: “the majority of the LGBT community is supporting Hillary Clinton- right now, but that’s only because that’s what their option is. Joe Biden is not in the race”. Vice President Biden is very popular in the LGBT community because he came out in favour of same-sex marriage before President Obama was one of the first mainstream politicians to do so.
So because of Republican attacks and the lack of Joe Biden in the race, the LGBT community is largely supporting Clinton. The former Secretary of State is now supportive of equal rights, which isn’t a bad thing, but there is absolutely no reason that Clinton, who is a candidate who often talks about her record, is favoured by LGBT people. When she was First Lady she didn’t speak out against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and she didn’t speak out against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); both of these things severely impacted the LGBT community and were signed into law by her husband.
As an example, let’s take DOMA which passed the House 342-67 and Senate 85-15. When challenged on her position on this legislation, Clinton claimed that her support for the bill was because it was the lesser of two evils as many Republican Congresspeople wanted to push for a constitutional amendment. This is a dubious defence of DOMA because people at the time who voted in favour of the bill didn’t speak about the need to stop a constitutional amendment and in-depth reporting from groups ranging from the Washington Post to Buzzfeed show that there was no contemporary evidence that showed that a federal constitutional amendment was possible.
However Elizabeth Birch, who used to be the head of the Human Rights Campaign, who incidentally have just endorsed Clinton in the 2016 race, said that the threat of a constitutional amendment gained traction after George W. Bush was elected in 2000. Birch actually believed that the signing of DOMA was Bill Clinton’s way of making the issue go away in the 1996 Presidential Election but if Birch’s first point is true then Hillary Clinton is either lying or wasn’t a fan of gay rights. If Birch’s assertion about the time-line of when constitutional amendments were considered is accurate then there was no reason to pass DOMA.
There are two ways to pass an amendment: two-thirds majorities in both houses of Congress or a two-thirds majority of state legislatures. Throughout the entire time that Bush was President, the Republicans never had more than 55 Senators, which is not a two-thirds majority, and, although many Democrats voted for DOMA most did so on the grounds of ‘states rights’, this argument would lead people to vote against a constitutional amendment.
What about an Article V Convention through the states? That has never happened before because its hard to get two-thirds of states to agree on anything, but let’s have a look for the sake of argument. As I said most Democrats who supported DOMA didn’t support a constitutional amendment so realistically legislatures that were totally controlled by Republicans would be the only ones that called for an amendment.
Here are the numbers of legislatures controlled by each party with Republican represented by R, Democrats by D and ‘split legislatures’ by S (Nebraska’s legislature is different so will be omitted); the magic number of Republican controlled legislatures to get an anti-gay marriage amendment passed is 33. In 2000 18R, 16D, 15S; in 2002 20R, 16D, 13S; in 2004 19, 19D, 11S; in 2006 16R, 23D, 10S; and in 2008 14R, 27D, 8S. Even if some Democrats voted for an amendment to the constitution, the maths doesn’t add up. If Birch is correct about the time-line of when constitutional amendments were being talked about, there was no reason for Bill Clinton to sign DOMA.
But actually we don’t need to only rely on Birch as Evan Wolfson, the founder of Freedom to Marry, has said “it is not accurate to explain DOMA as motivated by an attempt to forestall a constitutional amendment”. On this issue, which is of incredibly symbolism to the LGBT community, rather than admit that she was wrong like on gay marriage, Clinton has tried to rewrite history.I don’t want to be disingenuous here, I’m not criticising Hillary Clinton for something that her husband did. I’m criticising the fact that she has claimed she was doing something admirable when actually people who were there at the time say otherwise. If she had just said tat she had ‘evolved’ on gay rights like she had on gay marriage this wouldn’t even be a criticism.
If the LGBT community is supporting a Democratic candidate based on their record the choice is obvious: Bernie Sanders. In 1972 Sanders ran for the Governorship of Vermont as a member of the Liberty Union Party and, in a letter written before the election took place, Sanders wrote: “let’s abolish all laws dealing with abortion, drugs, sexual behaviour (adultery, homosexuality, etc.)”. Although dealing with other issues in tandem, at the time Vermont still had sodomy laws on the books which were repealed in 1977; let’s not forget that in the 1970s supporting the decriminalisation of homosexuality was not popular with the electorate, yet Sanders, who was running for political office, had clearly set out his position.
In 1983, after being elected Mayor of Burlington two years prior, Sanders supported the city’s first ever gay pride parade and later went on to sign a city ordinance against housing discrimination. In 1993, after being elected to the House of Representatives, Sanders voted against ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and went on to vote against DOMA in 1996. He’s not perfect, he wasn’t in favour of same-sex marriage since the beginning of his political career, but he did come out in favour of marriage equality in 2009, which was four years before Clinton announced her support. Bernie Sanders has been fighting for the LGBT community, in some capacity, since 1972.
There are many reasons why voters choose candidates and no voter should be treated as if they are only concerned about people like them; for example I am a white man but I would support a candidate that wanted to do something about the disproportionate rate of black people in prison. Indeed the name recognition of candidates also helps them poll well, irrespective of their electoral records. But to those LGBT people who are looking to vote in the Democratic primary whilst looking at the candidates through the lens of ‘who has the best record on LGBT rights?’ the answer is abundantly clear: Bernie Sanders should get your vote.