In Massachusetts, where there is clear race between two titans -- Republican Senator Scott Brown and his certain Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren -- much seems to rest on the political moderation of the incumbent.
That mantra of moderation was certainly at play when Brown plucked a sentence from the late Ted Kennedy's final, personal letter to the Pope on contraceptive services for women. To Brown's telling, the line showed that the liberal lion would have backed the so-called Blunt amendment, which would have given employers a moral or religious out in determining health care coverage, including long-standing birth control services for women.
Despite the Kennedy family and Democrats crying foul, some might argue that Brown's approach met with some success. For many of us in the gay community, it echoed the long-standing claim by the Brown campaign that his position on the seminal issue of repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was another clear indicator of his moderate approach.
The vote in question is the final "yes" he cast when the repeal of the military's 17-year-old ban on gays and lesbians serving openly finally reached the Senate floor. It's a vote columnists and political commentators often point to as an example of Brown's independence and willingness to buck his party. It also inevitably leads to comparisons with the two Maine Republican Senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
But in truth, Brown doesn't fully resemble either fellow New England Republican. Maine is now a real Senate battlefield after Snowe suddenly announced her retirement, saying she had grown weary of the "my road or the highway" politics in Washington. Unlike Brown, she voted against the controversial Blunt amendment, the only Republican to do so.
As for Collins, she was the lead Republican co-sponsor of repealing the military ban in the Senate. She worked her colleagues hard, often voicing frustration at her party leadership's many attempts to thwart passage before the congressional session closed down in December of 2010. That was a very real deadline because the 2010 midterm election results portended a likely defeat with a new Senate sitting in January.
Certainly, Senator Brown knew the stakes. He opposed ending the discriminatory military policy in May 2010, when it came before the Senate Armed Services Committee where he sits. He repeatedly voted to block the National Defense Authorization Act, which contained the repeal language throughout most of that year.
When the bill finally survived all attempts to derail it, Brown supported repeal in two separate votes at the end of the year. But by then, it was clear repeal would pass.
Perhaps the LGBT community is just a little bit more accustomed to politicians who overstate or understate a vote or position. We tend to look a little deeper and broader. It was hard, for example, not to notice that Brown was the only member of the congressional delegation who had a scheduling problem when the group filmed an "It Gets Better" video for LGBT teens. And it's not like his office rescheduled another shoot, or made alternative plans to learn more about bullying or the higher incidence of suicide by LGBT youth.
And, for better or worse, we tend to remember earlier positions and votes. When Brown was a state senator, he spoke out against the historic Goodridge decision won by the GLAD in 2003, which made Massachusetts the first state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. He continued to consistently oppose the ruling, voting to put the question on the ballot. Fortunately, that effort failed.
And now, with thousands of Massachusetts gay and lesbian couples married, many of them since 2004, many of them raising families, Brown opposes the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denies these legally married couples the same rights and benefits every other couple takes for granted.
These are the same benefits families count on in times of deepest crisis, like the death of spouse. Federal tax protections and social security benefits, for example, can make all the difference in whether or not a widow or widower can keep the family home. Legally married gay and lesbian couples don't have those protections because of DOMA.
Let's return to the premise of New England Republican moderates. In two years, Brown has not co-sponsored a single bill to level the playing field for his LGBT constituents. Collins and Snowe, with whom he is mostly compared, have both co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would protect workers from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Collins is also the lead Republican sponsor of a bill that would end the tax disparity that same-sex domestic partners face when their employer-provided health plans offer health care coverage.
In a political era where a politician's views or votes on gay issues can flag a broader or narrower view of the world the rest of us live in, Senator Brown should be judged on the totality of the record, not on a single, no consequences vote.
Mary Breslauer led the communications strategy around the Goodridge case.
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