THE BLOG

On LGBT Rights, Bernie Leads and Hillary Follows

06/26/2015 02:54 pm ET | Updated Jun 25, 2016

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Unlike Hillary, Bernie has supported LGBT marriage equality for the past 15 years.

Have you seen Hillary Clinton's new video supporting LGBT marriage equality?

The de facto campaign ad is quite touching, and it's refreshing to see candidates so openly promoting LGBT rights. However, while many people on social media have watched the ad and named Clinton a champion for the LGBT community, they have also jumped to the conclusion that she should be the Democratic presidential nominee because of her recent pro-LGBT stance.

To these people, I say...go read a history book.

Hillary Clinton was the First Lady when her husband, Bill Clinton, signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in 1996. This law, which the Supreme Court has since declared unconstitutional, prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages. Until recently, DOMA stood out as one of the biggest barriers to LGBT equality. And make no mistake - although Bill was the one who signed the act, Hillary supported it, too.

DOMA was one of the worst of the Clintons' past offenses against the LGBT community, but by no means the only one. As British author and blogger Andrew Sullivan observed in 2014:

[Hillary Clinton] was the second most powerful person in an administration in a critical era for gay rights. And in that era, her husband signed the HIV travel ban into law (it remained on the books for 22 years thereafter), making it the only medical condition ever legislated as a bar to even a tourist entering the US.

The Clinton administration also implemented the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which banned gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. "Where and when it counted," Sullivan concluded, "the Clintons gave critical credibility to the religious right's jihad against us." Hillary strengthened this credibility for years after she left the White House, calling heterosexual marriage a "fundamental bedrock principle" in 2004, and she continued her lack of support for marriage equality throughout her 2008 presidential campaign.

Of course, Clinton has since evolved on LGBT rights, as many have. That's wonderful. But the problem is, she only came out in support of marriage equality after it was not politically risky to do so. In fact, by 2013 - the year Clinton announced her full support for marriage equality - Democratic support for same-sex marriage was the norm, not the exception.

On such an important moral issue that affects my life and the lives of thousands of other Americans, making decisions in this manner is rather despicable. Additionally, Clinton's habit of doing what polls deem politically popular is the reason why so many voters find her inauthentic. Now, if Clinton were the only option for the Democratic presidential nomination, I would understand why we should support her despite these flaws.

But she isn't the only option.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the longest-serving Independent in the history of Congress, is also running for the nomination. And unlike Clinton, his record on LGBT rights is historically excellent.

Sanders voted against DOMA, one of the few members of Congress to do so, at a time when such a stance was not politically popular. Four years after DOMA passed, Sanders helped champion Vermont's decision in 2000 to become the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions. This set a national precedent for LGBT equality achieved via legislative means. In 2009, when Vermont became the first state to allow marriage equality through legislative action rather than a court ruling, Sanders expressed his support once again. Truly, Sanders has been a real leader on LGBT rights, even if this leadership isn't recognized in the way that Clinton's current support is.

So, why didn't Sanders put out a fancy video endorsing LGBT rights like Clinton did? Probably because he has nowhere near the wealth and big corporate donors that Clinton has. Sanders's top donors consist of labor and teacher unions, whereas giant corporations and mega-banks such as Citigroup and Goldman Sachs make up Clinton's list (click here to view an in-depth comparison of the two candidates' funding sources). If you're thinking critically, this fact alone should influence your vote much more than any well-produced campaign ad.

Scott Novak is a student at Rollins College and editor-in-chief of The Independent, a campus magazine. His Twitter is @supernova057.

UPDATE: While it's true Bernie Sanders has been an on-the-record supporter of marriage equality for at least the past 15 years in Congress, he has been an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights for far longer. Check out this letter he wrote to a newspaper in 1972. That means he's been supporting the LGBT community for over 40 years.