A Good Way to Start

Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, calls the Kerry-Edwards ticket “the most gay-supportive national ticket in American history.”

Given the way in which the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) agenda has advanced since the dawn of the Clinton era and the startling hostility of the Bush-Cheney administration, that seems like a pretty safe call.

Even without Edwards on the ticket, the Democratic lever already offered the only rational choice this year for LGBT voters who put any stock in the idea that this community can advance its interests through political channels. George W. Bush’s embrace of a constitutional amendment to permanently bar same-sex marriage was for many LGBT voters only the final straw from an administration that has grown ever more unpalatable since its inception. The president has promoted faith-based policy solutions inimical to gay interests and turned his back on HIV prevention programs based in science—and an honest recognition of the role sexuality plays in everyone’s life. Add to that economic policies geared to favor his richest supporters and a foreign policy tragically—and dishonestly—gone awry, and it is unlikely that Bush could dream of attracting the 25 percent of the gay vote he is estimated to have won in 2000 in this year’s reelection bid.

None of this is intended to denigrate Kerry and Edwards by saying merely that their opponents are unacceptable. Both Democrats are decent men with progressive records and a proven willingness to stand up in support of gay rights issues.

But neither is yet at the place that LGBT voters would like them to be.

And both men, if they hope to succeed in their now joined dream of unseating Bush and Dick Cheney, must recognize that it is critical that they present themselves not only as preferable to the incumbents, but also inspiring enough to motivate voters to take affirmative steps to support them.

For the gay community, an important opportunity to make that case comes next week when the Senate takes up the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Washington observers widely agree that the FMA has no chance of clearing Congress this year and New York’s senior senator, Charles Schumer, questions whether its supporters even have 51 votes in the Senate, never mind the two-thirds required for a constitutional amendment. If the process plays out as currently expected, FMA supporters would need 60 votes to break a Democratic filibuster, something nobody expects.

In that scenario, where approval of the amendment seems impossible, it might be tempting for Kerry and Edwards to take a walk on the vote, in the hopes of taking one G.O.P. wedge issue off the table.

That would be a terrible mistake. Republicans, and Americans generally, would immediately recognize it for the dodge it was, merely fueling latent perceptions that Kerry waffles too much. And, a devastating message would also have been telegraphed to LGBT voters, now so eager to help unseat Bush.

The Human Rights Campaign promises that Kerry will turn out for the vote, and we believe he will too. But we would hate to have not taken the precaution of having made this critically important political point upfront.

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