CommunityPam's House Blend

A scorecard that matters: Dem support on the Hill for LGBT issues

The LGBT voting bloc has always been a reliable one for Democrats, in terms of turnout and support ($).  Now that the party is back in charge on the Hill, will the community receive a return on the investment? After all, HRC was just hailed by the party in the Boston Globe for its role in supporting candidates by staffing phone banks, raising money, and working essential get-out-the-vote efforts to elect Dems at the federal and local levels — including candidates that were not always fully supportive of equality (see Eva’s diary). Are we getting ROI there as well?

Dale Carpenter, in the Bay Area Reporter and Independent Gay Forum says while a Dem-controlled Congress halts the anti-gay agenda fomented by Republicans that held Congress hostage for 12 years, expect to hear the familiar excuses if little action to move civil rights issues forward occurs.

The Democrats will be an improvement on this. The tone will be much better. We will hear pleasing and soothing words from congressional leaders for a change. The federal marriage amendment won’t even get a vote for the next two years.

Is this enough? For some people it will be. Moreover, all manner of excuses will be made for any lack of action: why pass legislation the President will veto, other matters require more immediate attention, the Democrats can’t afford to be seen as beholden to “special interests,” it’s more important to concentrate on electing a Democrat to the White House in 2008, and so on.

So, to hold them accountable, let’s talk about keeping score on the major gay rights issues that could be addressed in the next two years.

See Carpenter’s point system after the flip.

(1) Federal recognition of gay relationships (up to 50 points): Congress could vote to repeal DOMA (35 points). It could vote to give spousal benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of federal employees (15 points). At a minimum, Democratic leaders could hold hearings on these matters that will get the ball rolling toward eventual federal recognition of gay relationships (3 points).

(2) Gays in the military (up to 30 points): With strong Republican support, a Democratic Congress and Democratic president gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1993. The new Democratic Congress could make amends by voting to repeal the law, leaving to the president the power to decide whether to allow gays to serve (20 points). Or it could vote simply to ban discrimination against gays in the military (30 points). At a minimum, Democratic congressional leaders could hold hearings on anti-gay discrimination in the military (3 points).

(3) ENDA (up to 15 points): Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already prohibit employment discrimination against gays. A federal bill making this national policy has been pending in Congress in one form or another for more than three decades. The latest version being pressed by national gay groups would also ban discrimination against transgendered people, which complicates its chances of passage even with Democrats in control.

Congress could pass the legislation (with or without protection for transgenders) (15 points), though it might pass a weak bill with lots of broad exemptions for small businesses, religiously affiliated institutions, and the like (deduct one point for every 10 percent of gay employees not covered). At a minimum, congressional leaders could schedule another round of hearings (1 point).

(4) Hate crimes legislation (up to 5 points): There’s no evidence hate crimes laws actually deter hate crimes. There’s little evidence the states aren’t already prosecuting anti-gay crimes. But a federal law would have some symbolic value. Congress could pass such a law (5 points). Yet a federal hate crimes law might be unconstitutional. Alternatively, Congress could pass a bill assisting local law enforcement with the investigation and prosecution of such crimes (up to 4 points). Hearings on this are of little value (1 point).

So bookmark this page, or print it out and keep it safe in your desk until November 2008, when it’s time to cast your vote. Pull it up and see what score the Dems have earned regarding support of LGBT issues by using Carpenter’s scale:

  • 75-100 points: Never vote for another Republican.
  • 50-74 points: Democrats are worth our first-born children.
  • 30-49 points: Democrats are willing to fight for gay equality, at some political risk.
  • 10-29 points: Democrats will do the minimum necessary to mollify gays.
  • 0-9 points: Democrats know they can take gays for granted.

The sad truth is that we need a return of the moderate wing of the Republican party to present a plausible alternative — and put the pressure on — the Dems who see the community as an ATM, and believe that kind words and little action is enough to get by. I’m not holding my breath. The Dem old saw variations on “at least we won’t recriminalize homosexuality or string you up” are pathetic and spineless.

The fact of the matter is that the private sector, which has moved by leaps and bounds to protect gay employees and which does appreciate the spending power of the demographic, is far ahead of our legislators. Many elected officials on the Hill have forgotten how to lead. These Dem politicians are poll-chasing and focus-grouped within an inch of their lives, too timid to see how they have sold the gay community down the river by being so passive. After all, many court the Base, and the party has told states that it is perfectly fine to put civil rights of gays and lesbians on the ballot. Howard Dean himself cooed proudly over the fact — in front of a gay audience — that the Dems won a third of the evangelical vote in 2006.  I was there.

I hate to say it, but the room was also full of too much backslapping during Dean’s speech over the Dem takeover of the House and Senate; I couldn’t believe it when Chairman Dean positively glowed over the fact that a third of evangelicals crossed over to vote Dem in this election. I hate to break it to him, but in the states with amendments on the ballot, those evangelicals, even as they crossed over because they were digusted with the GOP, still chose to vote for a marriage amendment.  Is he ok with that? While that crossover might bring on cheers in another venue and encourage the party to further court The Base, for LGBT folks that’s not exactly comforting.

What we can celebrate is that the changeover in Washington and many state houses means no active legislation further eroding our rights, but whether we will see actual gay-positive legislation passed is another matter with the historically gun-shy, spineless Democratic Party that has run from serious discussion of gay issues as fast as it can in the past. As we’ve said before here on the Blend, Dems at the national level will only advocate once the coast is clear, having had their fingers in the wind to see which way it’s blowing. Leading isn’t a strong suit in this area; they’ve been content to take our money and do zero as amendment after amendment has passed.

…Which brings me to the other matter that Dean didn’t talk about — the party’s “endorsement” of putting the civil rights of gays and lesbians on the ballot — Howard Dean giddily mentioned how “the voters have spoken” in tossing out the GOP control of the Hill. Unfortunately, the voters have also spoken on our rights because both the Democrats and the Republicans at the national level have no problem with “leaving it to the states.”

This is morally wrong, and the responsibility for the strategic political decision to punt on the civil rights of gays and lesbians by allowing candidates to hide behind a position of  “leave it to the states”  lies at the Democratic Party’s door. We have 27 states that now have marriage amendments in place, many that preclude any civil unions or domestic partnerships. Those measures profoundly affect the lives of everyday, working class gay families who don’t have any political power aside from their vote — and they are in the minority.

So unless there’s a change in how the Dems view their gay constituency, there’s no harm in keeping score, and pulling that sheet out from time to time to see if the party has earned your loyalty.

Hat tip, Eva.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding