Last week in this space, while reviewing the enormous progress of 2003, we emphasized the critical need for unity among community leaders and members alike in tackling the enormous opportunities and risks facing us as the result of the brewing debate over same-sex marriage rights.
As we look forward to hearing more specifically from our advocacy groups on what the next steps will be, it is also important to articulate a compelling political goal that must be at the top of our agenda—the defeat of Pres. George W. Bush for reelection this November.
During the past three years, the president’s advocates in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) community, principally within the Log Cabin Republicans, have argued that the dire warnings of gay Democrats during the 2000 election campaign—that progress made during the Clinton years would be steadily eroded—did not come to pass.
Bush did not reverse the government’s nondiscrimination policy in federal hiring and he did not gut AIDS spending. Gay Republicans are fond of pointing out that it was Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and that gay legislative initiatives on the federal level—such as the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) and a hate crimes statute—did not come to pass under the Democrats’ watch. The Bush administration, then, has merely preserved that status quo, they maintain.
These arguments, however, are disingenuous.
The lack of progress on federal legislative efforts is due entirely to the GOP’s control of both houses of Congress and the presidency. When Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Bill Frist make certain that ENDA and hate crimes legislation have no traction, they are clearly doing the president’s bidding. Clinton may not have had the clout, or maybe even sufficient political will to get our agenda enacted, but he supported it, aggressively at times, and he would have signed legislation that went before him. The same is not true of Bush.
Similarly, though Bush has been willing to spend money on AIDS at home and abroad–-even if he clearly has not been willing to back up the bold pronouncements on AIDS spending in Africa made in his State of the Union speech last January—he has allowed federal policy to be dictated by an unsound reliance on abstinence-only pipe dreams and undisguised hostility toward prevention efforts which address gay and bi men, particularly those of color, with sexually frank, but effective messages.
What the gay Republican analysis misses altogether is that all of the significant progress of the past three years—and there has been a lot—has happened on the judicial and cultural fronts. Virtually nothing has advanced politically, at least at the federal level. That has been due to Republican intransigence.
Meanwhile, Bush has pursued a policy of judicial appointments skewed to the far right, tempered only by the willingness of Senate Democrats, most prominently New York’s Chuck Schumer, to stand up to the president. Bush’s most egregious appointments have brought attention on themselves for issues other than gay rights—choice and workers’ rights to organize among them. But the general tenor of their views leaves little doubt about their inclinations. We should take Bush seriously when he says he considers Justice Antonin Scalia, the angry dissident on the Supreme Court’s sodomy ruling, a model jurist.
Our community should not wait until it is seriously wounded to recognize the dangers a second (or rather third) Bush term poses. The president has always shown a willingness to cravenly seek approval from religious conservatives, and his recent statement endorsing a federal marriage amendment—even if he tempered by saying only if it were necessary—should be warning enough for all of us.
Having caught Saddam Hussein proves nothing about the underlying validity of the president’s Iraq policy. The rebound in the Dow does not mitigate the economic injustice of his tax cut policy. Neither should the lack of an organized political backlash implemented by Bush be reason for reelecting him.
Our community needs to help elect a Democrat president in 2004.