[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This guest post comes to the Bilerico Project from Eric J. Stern. Eric is the former Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats and the former Director of LGBT Outreach for the Democratic National Committee. He currently serves as the Associate Director of Career Development at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and is a Volunteer Advisor to the John Edwards for President Campaign. This is the first time Eric has contributed to the Project.
While I believe that the Democratic Party has a tremendous field of candidates, I ultimately decided to endorse John Edwards for President and signed on as a volunteer adviser to his presidential campaign in January of this year. I initially got into politics and advocacy because of my passion for helping underserved communities. Edwards' focus on poverty alleviation and his REAL plan on universal health care and leveling the playing field in public education is unmatched by other candidates and, in fact, has forced the other candidates to re-focus on these issues.
The Edwards Campaign from day one has worked very hard to cultivate LGBT support across the nation and to seek our input and ideas—as opposed to simply our money. Our LGBT steering committee has been incorporated into all aspects of the campaign, resulting in the Edwards campaign being the first to release a public list of high-level LGBT supporters, the first to release a questionnaire to HRC, the first to release a comprehensive HIV/AIDS policy, and the first to have its candidate visit a LGBT community center and to have the candidate's spouse participate in a gay pride event. And, in an early and pivotal moment in the campaign, Edwards clearly denounced General Pace’s statement that homosexuals were immoral. This was in striking contrast to how Hillary and Obama responded to the same question.
Edwards supports immigration equality and repealing all portions of DOMA—Hillary and Obama do not. And while John Edwards is not yet a supporter of marriage equality, he has pledged to use the power of the White House to rid the federal laws of anti-gay discrimination and extend all of the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in committed relationships. And, while I wish he was now a supporter of marriage equality, I believe that a candidate whose wife and daughter support equality will get there much earlier than a candidate whose husband signed DOMA and encouraged Senator Kerry to support the FMA and anti-gay state constitutional amendments in order to win more conservative votes.
While much of the focus of the campaign thus far has been on foreign policy, immigration and health care, I believe that there is an important theme in this election cycle that is directly relevant to our work as LGBT community activists. As most of us now realize, almost all of the victories for our community have been at the state and local level. These victories are due to the hard work, persistence and talent of LGBT statewide organizations and their allies. Because these activists devoted their lives to educating their neighbors and elected representatives, we have marriage in Massachusetts, civil unions in New Jersey, Vermont, California, New Hampshire and Connecticut, and laws providing workplace equality, safe schools, protection from hate crimes and domestic partnership registries in dozens of states and local municipalities.
Many of us have also worked very hard to elect Democratic Governors and Democratic legislators in our home states. And as a result of the officials we helped to elect in 2006 and because of the state and local LGBT organizations on the ground working to close the deal after these individuals were elected, we have seen some real results in the states with direct benefits for our community, including, among many other accomplishments:
- In Iowa, new Democratic Governor Chet Culver signed a state Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) into law.
- In Colorado, new Democratic Governor Bill Ritter signed a second parent adoption bill.
- In Ohio, new Democratic Governor Ted Strickland signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- In Oregon, newly-reelected Governor Democratic Ted Kulongoski signed domestic partner and state ENDA bills. (Democrats took control of the State House and passed domestic partner and state ENDA bills.)
- In New Hampshire, State Democrats who won a majority in the state Senate and the first Democratic majority in the State House since the Civil War passed a civil unions bill and defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred same-sex marriage. Newly-reelected Democratic Governor John Lynch signed a civil unions bill into law.
- In Massachusetts, new Democratic Governor Deval Patrick led the successful effort to keep an anti-marriage amendment off the ballot.
- Democrats in the Alaska legislature defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit domestic partner benefits for state employees, while Democratic state legislatures in Maryland and North Carolina defeated proposed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage.
- The Democratic legislature in Vermont passed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, while the Democratic legislature in Washington State passed a domestic partner bill.
So, now you may be asking yourself what all of these accomplishments have to do with why the LGBT community should be supporting John Edwards for President. The answer is simple: if we want to continue to see this kind of progress in the states and to see the bills that we all work so hard to pass (and the anti-gay bills we all work so hard to kill), we need to retain the majorities Democrats hold in statehouses and build new ones. And there is only one candidate with a 50-state plan who can ensure that we capitalize on the opportunities have across the nation. That candidate is John Edwards. I would encourage you to read the sign-on letter our LGBT steering committee released 2 weeks ago and we would welcome your participation in the campaign.
[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This entry has been updated at the request of the author to include hyperlinks and remove one introductory paragraph not necessary to the post.