Below is an interview with Lee Swislow, the executive director of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders. GLAD, a 30-year-old organization, is probably most well known for winning the historic Goodridge decision in 2003 which made gay marriage legal in Massachusetts.
Obama and McCain have barely touched on the gay marriage issue during the presidential campaign. What is GLAD's opinion of this?
LS: Well, we actually think that's a sign of progress. It's clear from all the polling that's been done that marriage equality, marriage of same sex couples, is not a voting issue for anyone really this election.
Those few people who are the more conservative, to whom it is a voting issue, they're already in McCain's camp. So we think that that's a sign that the country is moving forward. I hesitate to use the word 'normalization' because that word could be something we only experience in Massachusetts. But, to some extent it is a sign of the growing acceptance that same sex couples deserve the same right to participate in society as any other couple and polls show increasing support certainly for marriage and for other forms of relationship recognition.
Do you think gay marriage will be addressed in the Presidential Debates?
LS: Anything can happen as we're seeing but, hard to predict what will happen in the Presidential debates given the almost complete silence from the candidates, from the campaigns and from the media on this issue. I would be surprised to see it become any kind of focus in the upcoming debates.
The gay org the Log Cabin Republican have come out for McCain. Do you find this as upsetting as I do?
LS: Well, I am really glad I'm not a Log Cabin Republican because I think, what a position to be in. I read their statement. They have a rationale for wanting to work within the Party. Personally, I would never make the compromise that they have made in endorsing a ticket that is so hostile to our interests and to equality. I wish them well. If they are successful that will only help us, but boy, do I think it's a hard and perhaps fruitless road to be going down, but good luck to them.
Gay activist Mike Rogers recently delivered his Roy Cohn award to Senator John McCain's Chief of Staff Mark Buse at his Washington D.C. office. The award recognizes high-profile gays and lesbians who work against the interests of the LGBT community. In making his case against Buse, Rogers said: "Mark Buse is not just a chief of staff for a homophobic United States senator, but he is helping that senator get elected to the White House." What do think about this hypocrisy?
LS: Sadly, in our work, it is gay and lesbian people who, whether in the electoral field or in the
executive branch, can be some of our worst enemies. It's not a unique situation and I don't think I want to go down whatever psychological reasons we might come up with for why people take positions and take work that is so against their own personal interest as well as the interest of their community. I can only hope that all of our work together is creating a climate and an atmosphere where people no longer make these kinds of decisions that at least from the outside seem to be a bit self hating.
Obama has said that he will end DOMA, The federal "Defense of Marriage Act," and the Military's "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy. While McCain doesn't support any of our LGBT issues. What would GLAD's strategy be on these issues if McCain wins the White House?
LS: Well, certainly as a legal organization, GLAD is not in the forefront of, say legislative strategy around Congress. And yet I think the strategy in some ways is the same in terms of continuing to build public support against these mean-spirited and discriminatory pieces of legislation. And we've seen just in terms of polls and public opinion, tremendous movement around the issue of gay and lesbian people serving in the military. You know, by far the majority of Americans think 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' is wrong. And, even though it can take awhile for public opinion to actually influence what happens politically, ultimately that will make a difference. And the same thing I think very few people actually know what the Defense of Marriage Act is and we've been, I don't know whether shocked is too strong a word, but it's amazing that even in Massachusetts talking to regular folks in the community, most people assume that legally married gay and lesbian couples have access to Federal benefits and they're really surprised that we don't have access.
So there's a huge educational piece that needs to happen continuing with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and around DOMA where there's been relatively little discussion to let this country know that we lesbian and gay people are married, we have the same marriage license, it's a completely legal relationship and yet the Federal government has reached in and said we don't think you're married. And, whether or not people agree with marriage for same sex couples, they are more likely to agree that if we are legally married, we shouldn't be treated unfairly. So we have talked at GLAD to literally hundreds and hundreds of legally married couples who are hurt every day in their lives by not having access to Federal benefits and we will continue to talk to couples and share their stories in the media, in the press, wherever we can find places to let people know that something terribly wrong is happening in this country and we need to do something about it.
What is your opinion about the absurd statements that gay marriage cost the Dems the 2004 election?
LS: That was so incredibly traumatizing to our community because the results of the 2004 election were so devastating and I think even though all the research that has been done since the 2004 election indicates that, in fact, marriage and LGBT issues did not cause the defeat of the Democrats in 2004. I think the community continues to be traumatized. I think progressives are traumatized and it's had the unfortunate effect of making us and progressive politicians more nervous about talking about our issues and I think that's unfortunate.
If the Dems lose again do you think the blame will once again be on gay marriage?
LS: That would be such a stretch. As we've been saying there's been no conversation really
about marriage equality. Look at California. There could be no bigger or more significant
movement on the issue of marriage equality than winning that court victory in California and
that certainly isn't causing a ripple. There's an incredibly hard fought and critically important
campaign going on in California around defeating the proposed Constitutional Amendment, but
you're not reading about it in the national press. It's really a local story so I think it would be
very hard to blame it on the LGBT community. And, of course, the issues that our country is
facing right now are enormous. I think all of us, gay, straight, are terrified around the economic collapse of this country and our lack of faith that there's going to be a good solution to it.
Since gay marriage was legalized in California, what are your thoughts if proposition 8 passes and the California Supreme Court decision is reversed?
LS: The first thing that would happen would be a lot of sadness. Having gotten through that
emotional reaction, we also know the progress for civil rights for any community is not a
straight line, as much as we would like to see that happen.
We at GLAD know that we never stop fighting. It would be a tremendous setback, a huge disappointment if we were to lose the fight in California but that won't stop us from fighting in Connecticut, in New York, New Jersey and Vermont, Maine and Iowa and every other state
because we know that equality is right. And we know whatever the setbacks, ultimately
we're going to be successful. I'm not saying it will be easy, but we'll keep fighting.
Listen to the complete audio version of the interview here.
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