Oftentimes in an election season, you hear the familiar cry from disillusioned voters that there really is no substantial difference between the two main candidates. In this election, that isn't the problem we face. A read-through of the platforms of the two parties and the policy proposals of the candidates quickly calls out their starkly different beliefs of where this nation should head. In particular, on the topic of LGBT Rights, the difference between the candidates could not be more stark.
It should be noted that I am writing this piece from the perspective of someone who works at the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights. Perhaps due to that fact, as well as the fact that I am a lesbian, you may not be surprised to know that I volunteer with the Obama Campaign. The information that follows is a rundown of the policies and positions presented by the candidates themselves. The facts in this situation more than speak for themselves.
Presentation of Positions
On the McCain website, policy positions that affect the LGBT community are included towards the bottom of a page, listed under the "Issue" category of "Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life." The mention of LGBT Rights there is to point out McCain's belief that working against marriage equality protects, seemingly, the "Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life," of others; not the LGBT community.
A click on over to Obama's website leads you to an LGBT area within the "People" section of his website. There are 23 constituent areas Obama has special portals to communicate relevant policy to. Along with LGBT there are categories ranging from "People of Faith" to "Americans with Disabilities" to "Sportsmen." In other words, it's made easy for a lot of groups to find Obama's positions on the issues important to them.
Once you get to the Obama Pride Page you'll find a frequently updated blog, a collection of LGBT Rights statements made by the both Barack and Michelle Obama, a collection of policy documents and links to related interviews and candidate statements on the issue area, as well as a policy paper outlining the campaign's position on a range of issues that affect the LGBT community, as well as options of how people can get involved and take action to support the campaign.
There also is a decided difference in that Obama frequently brings up the topic of LGBT Rights in his speeches, whereas McCain does not go on record on the issue much. (Here's a video someone cut together of a number of Obama's LGBT Rights mentions in his speeches.)
Moving beyond examining how easy or hard the candidates make it for voters to find their stances on LGBT Rights, lets do a overview comparison of what those stances are.
Since the one blatant reference to LGBT Rights (or, well, actually, being against those Rights) that McCain includes is on the topic of relationship recognition, we'll start there.
Here's what McCain has to say about the topic:
The family represents the foundation of Western Civilization and civil society and John McCain believes the institution of marriage is a union between one man and one woman. It is only this definition that sufficiently recognizes the vital and unique role played by mothers and fathers in the raising of children, and the role of the family in shaping, stabilizing, and strengthening communities and our nation.
What is not mentioned on McCain's website, but which he has stated elsewhere, is that McCain also opposes Civil Unions. It appears, from what can be pieced together of often somewhat unclear statements, McCain supports LGBT couples hiring lawyers to create legal structures of protection -- an expensive and inherently unequal task -- rather than giving them any sort of formal recognition.
Here's a clip of Senator McCain attempting to explain this stance to Ellen DeGeneres.
McCain also supports the discriminatory amendment initiative on the ballot in California, and also supported the only anti-LGBT Rights constitutional amendment ballot initiative that has thus far failed, in McCain's home state of Arizona.
McCain did vote against the Federal Amendment that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. However, he did vote to support the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines in law that definition of marriage. In a recent interview, McCain said that, as President, he would sign into law a Federal Amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, although he had previously voted against such an amendment.
Senator Obama voted against the Federal Amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman. He also opposes the ballot amendment in California that would apply the same definition to marriage, and is opposed to all forms of discriminatory amendments.
Obama supports the complete repeal of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA presently disallows any state granted civil union from accessing the more than 1,200 rights and responsibilities that married couples enjoy on the Federal level. Senator Obama supports civil union structures that would give the full rights and responsibilities of marriage, which are not possible to have until DOMA is repealed.
While on the topic of recognizing relationships, it is noteworthy to acknowledge the differences in the candidate's opinions on LGBT adoption rights.
Senator McCain is an adoptive father and includes in his platform an extension of support to encourage families to adopt needy children.
Here is what McCain's website says about the topic:
The McCain family experience is not unique; millions of families have had their lives transformed by the adoption of a child. As president, motivated by his personal experience, John McCain will seek ways to promote adoption as a first option for women struggling with a crisis pregnancy. In the past, he cosponsored legislation to prohibit discrimination against families with adopted children, to provide adoption education, and to permit tax deductions for qualified adoption expenses, as well as to remove barriers to interracial and inter-ethnic adoptions.
Despite these priorities, McCain does not believe that LGBT couples should be allowed to adopt.
Here is a video of McCain repeating his stance that LGBT individuals and couples should not be allowed to adopt and raise needy children.
Senator Obama supports LGBT individuals having the same adoption rights as heterosexual individuals.
Don't Ask Don't Tell
McCain believes that Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) works and that the LGBT individuals in the military present an "intolerable risk."
Obama believes that we need to repeal DADT and allow LGBT individuals to serve openly, and has committed to seeing that this change is brought about in a way that supports our national defense goals.
McCain has consistently voted against including "Sexual Orientation" into Federal Hate Crimes legislation. (He did so in 2000, 2002 and 2004.)
Obama has stated that he fully supports the Matthew Sheppard Act that would outlaw hate crimes, including those that were committed on a basis of hate against members of the LGBT Community.
Senator McCain voted against the Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Senator Obama supports a fully inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Bill on the Federal level, and worked to enact an inclusive non-discrimination bill in Illinois.
Senator McCain has stated that he supports the continued fight against HIV and AIDS, but he has not put forth a formal plan or strategy to address HIV/AIDS domestically or globally.
Senator Obama has released a detailed six page policy platform on how he will fight HIV/AIDS at home and abroad.
Although I've summarized the various issue areas that most directly affect LGBT Rights, I don't mean to presume this list to be a summary of the key issues that LGBT voters care about. In addition to the above, like any population, the LGBT community is weighing concerns over the war, the state of our economy and access to education and health care, just to name a few topics.
But, for all the issue areas Senators McCain and Obama could be compared on, focusing on issues of LGBT Rights calls out some of their starkest differences. It's has been 39 years since the Stonewall riots, but only four years since the issue of LGBT Rights were most forcibly used as a wedge issue to divide our country. There's still a lot of work to be done in the fight for equality, and the above presidential visions present very different realities about whether that work will lead to progress or a rollback of even more rights.