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Do the Math: Party Matters in the Fight for LGBT Equality

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LGBT EQUALITY
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From the standpoint of legal equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, the upcoming elections will be the most important in our history. In decades, there has not been a sharper distinction between the two parties on any issue than there is today on LGBT legal equality. President Obama, the Democratic platform and the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress support abolishing the restriction on federal recognition of same-sex marriages in states that recognize them and support an employment nondiscrimination act that is fully transgender-inclusive. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, the Republican platform and more than 90 percent of congressional Republicans strongly oppose them.

I have been asked by many people why I inject partisanship into the effort to advance our rights. The answer is statistically very clear: It is not those of us who support LGBT equality who have made this a partisan issue; it is the modern Republican Party in its current extremely conservative mode that has done so. If you take Mitt Romney, Speaker John Boehner and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell at their word, no legislation advancing our rights has any chance of passage if these men control any of the three branches of the federal government. And if Mitt Romney is president, and especially if he has a compliant Republican majority in the Senate, we can expect Supreme Court vacancies to be filled with more Antonin Scalias. Romney's decision to make Robert Bork one of his primary advisors on judicial issues guarantees this; Bork is the only person I can think of who has held federal judicial office who outdoes Scalia in his venom against us.

Given that, if you care strongly about LGBT issues, the case for voting Democratic is very clear. I recognize that there are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who put LGBT rights behind other issues in deciding how to vote. Some wealthy gay men and women who live in states where there are many protections apparently feel that their lives are already well-protected against prejudice and that it is more important to pass new tax cuts for the rich, block action on climate change or oppose reductions in military spending. But the facts are clear: There is simply no logical basis whatsoever for arguing that voting for Republicans this year is a good way to advance LGBT legal equality.

Yet the Log Cabin Republicans argue exactly that. Given the stakes for our rights in this election, it is important to examine their rationale.

First, the facts should be established. The Log Cabin Republicans have consistently endorsed candidates for Congress who are collectively far less supportive of our rights than most Democratic members of Congress, and in all but one case that I can think of -- the endorsement of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) -- the congressional candidates backed by the Log Cabin Republicans are less supportive, in many cases by significant percentages, than the Democrats opposing them. An example of this disparity comes from the current, very important debate over our right to marry people of the same sex. There are four states where referenda will be held on this subject in November: Maryland, Minnesota, Maine and Washington. There are 34 members of Congress from those four states. Of the 22 Democrats, 21 publicly support our right to marry and are urging their constituents to vote that way in the referenda. Of the 12 Republicans, none supports us, while 10 are opposed and two have refused to take a public position. It is important to note that among those who are publicly opposing us are two members of Congress, Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.) and Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), who have been recipients of Log Cabin endorsements in the past. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who for the second time is refusing to help us win a same-sex marriage referendum in Maine, nonetheless is held up by the Log Cabin Republicans as the best example of the kind of candidate they back.

I understand that it is difficult to get people to be supportive of our rights in some states, but Washington, Minnesota and Maine are among the most progressive states in the country. The failure of the Log Cabin Republicans to produce a single congressional supporter of same-sex marriage in these three states is indicative of their inability to produce results. I applaud efforts to persuade Republicans to become more supportive of LGBT rights, but I object when the Log Cabin Republicans claim far more success in this regard than they've actually had, and when they thus mislead people into voting for unsupportive Republicans on the premise that doing so will somehow advance LGBT rights.

A pattern is clear in the list of Republican congressional candidates that the Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed. Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, who represents South Miami Beach, Fla., and other areas, is the only Republican who is equally supportive as more than 100 Democrats. Her voting record is not 100-percent, but she is very close. Currently, there are three other Republicans in the House who have been much more supportive of LGBT equality than not: Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) at 70 percent, Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.) at 71 percent and Rep. Richard L. Hanna (R-N.Y.) at 76 percent. While these are nice numbers, in the cases of Rep. Hayworth and Rep. Hanna, they are clearly lower than their Democratic opponents.

Rep. Hayworth defeated former Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), whose record was 90 percent. By the way, she is currently opposed by Sean Maloney, a prominent, openly gay official in the administrations of former President Bill Clinton and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who would certainly have a 100-percent record, 30 points higher than Rep. Hayworth. Rep. Hanna defeated former Rep. Mike Arcuri (D-N.Y.), whose record was 87 percent.

Unfortunately, Ros-Lehiten, Hayworth and Hanna represent the strongest cases for Log Cabin endorsements. In the current Congress there are 10 other members of the House who have been endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans but who have far worse records. Here is the list, with their voting record, as compiled by the Human Rights Campaign:
  • Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.): 15 percent
  • Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan.): 0 percent
  • Rep. David Reichert (R-Wash.): 0 percent
  • Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio): 0 percent
  • Rep. Robert Dold (R-Ill.): 35 percent
  • Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.): 5 percent
  • Rep. Charles Dent (R-Pa.): 0 percent
  • Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.): 0 percent
  • Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.): 45 percent
  • Rep. Thomas Reed (R-N.Y.): 0 percent

It is important to note that these are not just meager percentages; in every case but one, the Democratic opponents of these people either scored or would score much higher.

To repeat where repetition is appropriate, six of the candidates that the Log Cabin Republicans have endorsed this year have scores of 0 percent on the Human Rights Campaign's congressional scorecard on LGBT equality.

If your major focal point is LGBT rights, why would you support someone with a poor or mediocre record on that issue against someone with a far better one? The Log Cabin answer is that doing so represents an important step toward persuading more Republicans to break with their anti-LGBT positions. I admire that objective, but I am very critical of the way in which they seek to achieve it.

The primary error of the Log Cabin Republicans is to settle for far too little from their candidates in terms of LGBT support. I am reminded again of the comment by their executive director, Clarke Cooper, who said that he was pleased with the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- who has an almost unanimous record of opposition to our issues -- as Mitt Romney's running mate because Ryan was "willing to engage" with them. The Log Cabin Republicans also argue that they have succeeded in lowering the amount of anti-LGBT rhetoric in the Republican conventions and elsewhere. That is not the basis for a self-respecting and effective political movement.

What the Log Cabin Republicans could be doing is letting Republicans know that they agree with them on economics, foreign policy, the environment, etc., and that they are prepared to be supportive of those Republicans who move in the right direction on LGBT issues. That would probably result in continued endorsement of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen but not too many others. The argument that these Republicans should be rewarded because they are willing to stand up for us at least part of the time in difficult political circumstances is obliterated by the fact that in virtually every case they are running against Democrats who are far more supportive. In the 2010 election, which gave control of the House to the Republican Party, some of the Log Cabin-backed candidates unseated Democrats who were 100-percent supportive on our issues. It can hardly be argued that these Republicans would not have been elected if they had been as supportive of LGBT issues as the Democrats they defeated.

As I mentioned earlier, the second part of the Log Cabin Republicans' mistaken approach is that they are misleading people by giving them the impression that the Log Cabin Republicans are far more successful than they have been. A series of headlines this summer began with a proclamation by the Log Cabin Republicans that they were going to have an influence on the Republican National Committee's party platform. The series culminated with an article pointing out that ultimately, the Log Cabin Republicans had zero effect on the Republican platform, which was as opposed to us on every single issue as it is possible to be.

The last variant of this argument, supported recently by the Victory Fund, is that we have to give the Republicans time. The Victory Fund argued recently that gay Republican Richard Tisei, running for Congress in Massachusetts, was trying to do now what I had begun 25 years ago, namely to begin to move an anti-gay party in the right direction. Parenthetically, I acknowledge with some gratitude their apparent view that I am much younger than I am; in fact, it was 40 years ago that I introduced the first gay rights (as we then called it) legislation in Massachusetts history. Although it is true that at the time, neither party was very good on our issues, by 1987 -- 25 years ago -- the Democrats had already begun to improve significantly, while the Republicans had not.

For example, the major issue important to our community in the 1980s was the effort to get a federal response to AIDS, both in treatment and in research, and the major obstacle to this was a series of amendments by right-wing Republicans, supported by most Republicans, that would have imposed outrageous and intrusive homophobic conditions on this. It was the Democratic leadership, with some Republican support, that mobilized to beat them back; even 25 years ago there clearly was a difference, and the Democrats were the better party.

Therefore, I believe that the Log Cabin Republicans are creating a false equivalence to argue that what I was doing in the 1980s is parallel to what the Log Cabin Republicans and the politicians they support are doing now. At no point did I ever urge people to vote for members of the party that was worse than the other party. In two cases where there was an anti-gay Democrat running against a pro-gay Republican, I supported the Republican; that was in the district held by former Rep. Stu McKinney (R-Conn.), who was opposed in his last term by an anti-LGBT Democrat, and when that Democrat ran against former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) to succeed McKinney, I made my support for Shays very clear. But by the 1980s Democrats were more supportive than the Republicans and becoming even more supportive.

In fact, that is a trend line that has continued: The country has gotten less prejudiced, and the Democrats have become more supportive faster than the country as a whole, while the Republicans have regressed.

I also have found it odd that the Victory Fund stated that Mr. Tisei and other pro-Republican LGBT activists were starting now to do what I was doing 25 years ago. Why weren't they doing it 25 years ago? Was there some rule that said they couldn't start until now?

In fact, the Log Cabin Republican organization was founded more than 20 years ago. My point is not that they should not have been trying all these years to make the Republican Party better but that they should not pretend that they have succeeded when in fact they have failed, and when the Republican Party is, if anything, worse than it was before. As for Mr. Tisei, it was not that he was ignoring LGBT issues 20 years ago; as a Republican member of the Massachusetts state legislature, he attacked his opponent, a Democrat, for supporting the right of lesbian and gay people to adopt, and opposed an anti-discrimination law. I am glad he has now changed his position on these issues, but I can think of no reason that he might not have done that earlier.

If the Democrats win the presidency, the House and the Senate, I am confident that we will have on the agenda a repeal of that section of DOMA that denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage rights and a fully inclusive ENDA. With Democratic majorities, these bills will clearly pass the House, and we'll have the support of the president. They will also pass the Senate if there is a Democratic majority, unless blocked by a Republican filibuster. Given the likelihood that 90 percent or more of Republicans will support a filibuster on DOMA or ENDA, the more Democrats we elect in November, the likelier we are to win on both of these critical issues. I wish that these issues were not partisan, but overwhelming Republican opposition to our issues has made party affiliation predictive of whether or not there will be progress on our issues, and therefore it would be mindless to ignore political party affiliation.

And a central point regarding the Log Cabin Republicans bears repeating: You do not persuade people to change their behavior by rewarding it. Continuing to support Republicans who fall far short of significant support for our efforts to achieve legal equality in cases where they are running against Democrats who are fully supportive reinforces the bad behavior; it does not change it.

I have one final point regarding the Victory Fund. I have been a supporter of the Victory Fund from its inception, and I think electing openly LGBT people to office is significant. We defeat prejudice by letting people know who we are, and by being in visible positions and at the table when decisions are made. But I have never thought it wise to announce to incumbent elected officials who are strong and energetic supporters of our issues that should they be challenged by someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, we will abandon them.

And that is a principle to which I have always adhered, including with lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender primary opponents of Democrats. Former Rep. Tony Beilenson (D-Calif.) was an early and staunch supporter of LGBT rights. When he was opposed by an openly gay activist in a primary, I strongly supported Beilenson on the principle that it is subversive of our efforts to win if we tell incumbents that no matter how supportive they are, if they happen not to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, they will lose our support.

So my support for John Tierney over Richard Tisei is based only in part on the fact that if the Democrats take back the House, we have a very good prospect of legislative victories, while if Mr. Tisei succeeds in keeping John Boehner as Speaker, we have no such prospect. It is also because I do not think it is appropriate for us to go to John Tierney and others, solicit their support and, in the case of John, receive it wholeheartedly but tell them that we may withdraw our support for them not because of anything under their control but because they have the wrong sexual orientation.