Terrance Heath

Obama's Gay Pass

Filed By Terrance Heath | January 24, 2008 1:14 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, Politics
Tags: Barack Obama, marriage, politics, religion

Based on what I've been reading as the primaries lay out, there's a struggle going on in the Democratic party. Actually, more than one. At least two. One is obvious to be discussed in the media; the candidates' battle to win over core constituencies of the Democratic base. Namely, African Americans, Latinos, and women.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were pitched yesterday into a struggle for the key components of the Democratic power base - women, African-American and Latino voters - as the race for the White House fans out across a national stage.

...While Obama had overwhelming support from African-American voters, Clinton was strongly backed by women and Latinos. She was also the preferred candidate of voters who see the economy as the main issue in the coming elections - a distinct plus amid deepening concerns about recession.

Although he is at a disadvantage generally against the Clinton machine and has lost much of the momentum that followed his Iowa victory, Obama enters the South Carolina contest with key strengths. He has led the polls in the South Carolina since mid-December and demonstrated overwhelming support from African-American voters in Nevada.

Entrance polls from the caucus suggested he won more than 80% support among African-Americans. That extended to African-American women as well, a good augury for Obama in South Carolina because of typically high turnout in that demographic group.

Otherwise, Clinton performed strongly among women in Nevada, who made up 60% of the electorate.

She also enjoys far greater support among Latino voters, who will be an important factor in California, Arizona and other states which hold their primary elections on February 5.

That's because conventional wisdom is that any winning coalition for a Democratic candidate must have strong support from those groups. And that's probably right. The percentage of African American voters who go Democratic is usually somewhere in the 80s or 90s. Women also tend to vote Democratic in numbers, and high turnout of women voters—especially single women— tends to be good for Democrats. So, there are organized efforts to encourage single women to vote, because winning that vote is crucial for any Democratic victory. Latino voters are important to Democrats, too, and the Republicans' take on immigration may have opened up more of the Latino vote to Democrats.

Whither gay voters in all of this? Certainly Democrats are doing more than they ever have before to win over the gay vote. Or saying more, at least. Just about every Democratic campaign has publicized endorsements from prominent LGBT leaders.

But the struggle for that constituency is more subtle. The dance is more nuanced, and most of the remaining front runners in the Democratic field have missed a step or two. The difference is that the positions the candidates take and the response of gay supporters to those positions indicates where we stand in relation to other constituencies.

And the reality is that where it's necessary for Democrats to appeal to other constituencies that may not support LGBT equality, we are expected to stand aside and give the candidate a pass. Case in point, Barack Obama. With the McClurkin debacle still fresh in some memories, Obama received an endorsement from a black conservative minister, whose church had been associated with an "ex-gay" ministry until it disappeared from the church's website.

What's interesting is that some gays and some heterosexual supporters of equality are willing to give Obama a pass on taking a stand on gay issues when it means winning over strongly Democratic constituencies that also happen to be homophobic or anti-gay.

Over at Americablog, John details the whole story and then relates that he talked to the Obama campaign and then does some amazing hairsplitting in order to give Obama a pass.

The reason the McClurkin controversy really got my goat wasn't that Obama had scheduled a homophobic superstar to emcee a campaign event. (I doubt Obama knew about McClurkin's dark side when the event was scheduled.) What bothered me was that even after Obama learned that McClurkin was a real jerk he still kept him on the schedule (and surprise, surprise, McClurkin then spent half an hour at the event railing against gays). From what we know, Caldwell isn't McClurkin - Caldwell may embrace the "ex-gays," but he's not an ex-gay leader like McClurkin (though I'm not going to give the guy any PFLAG awards). But more importantly, Caldwell doesn't appear to have any role at all in the Obama campaign, nor will he (though he did appear previously at a few Obama events). If that's true, and coming on the heels of Obama's rather gutsy pro-gay comments at MLK's church yesterday morning, I'm a lot less troubled by this controversy than I was the previous.

Bottom line: Obama gets some some major chits for what he did yesterday morning, and with that in mind, I think on this one we can give him a pass.

UPDATE: A reader emailed me this link, noting that Caldwell was invited by Obama's campaign to appear at the McClurkin fundraiser. I knew that already, and the campaign didn't lie to me about it - in fact they acknowledged that he was there. But, the issue isn't what the campaign did before they knew he was a problem, the issue is what they do now. If they say he's not going to be asked to do anything for the campaign, until proven otherwise, that's a darn good answer.

And at Open Left, Matt Stoller—who, based on what I know of him and have read of his blogging, is a supporter of gay & lesbian equality—wrote a briefer post about it, but closed with something that basically states the bargain being made here.

... I'm sympathetic to politicians who need to deal with homophobic pastors. This isn't exactly like McLurkin, since Caldwell is a community leader and it makes sense to speak with all communities if you are running for President. It is illustrative of a number of structural problems we will and are dealing with, including a very conservative set of religious establishment figures.

I'm not sure what the other structural problems are, or what makes this a "structural problem"—unless it's a question of who plays what role on the campaign. What it indicates to me, at least, is that if building a winning coalition for a Democratic candidate means reaching out to constituencies who are either historically and vehemently homophobic (as with some African American voters), or moderates and progressive evangelicals like Jim Wallis, who would rather just not talk about gay equality, then the party and the candidates will be given a pass, even by gay constituents and our supporters.

If winning means getting the support of Donnie McClurkin's fan base, then so be it. It remains to be seen whether the effort to distinguish the candidate and his positions from his supporters and their positions, but it's almost certain that if the candidate wants to keep his supporters either his position will be their positions or at the very least not conflict with their positions.

The implication is that somewhere down the road, though we may say "It's always the right time do the right thing," it isn't and may not be the case if enough potential voters would rather you didn't. Like I said before, that changes a party.

And if you look at it that way, it’s pretty clear Democratic leadership is following the example of the folks they’re trying to court now. From a practical point of view, I guess I understand it. There are more of them than there are gay people or gay families, and we’re not likely to be able to hand anyone an election. So, priorities.

But you don’t have to look much further than the Republican to find out what happens when a political party gets in bed with evangelicals. You come out of it a different party, with different priorities, and a powerful new constituency that you’ll probably have to keep satisfied if you want to stay in power.

And, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about anyway. Getting power. Keeping power. Period.

The difference is that, by and large, gay constituents will accept it. Oh we'll bitch a little, but we'll fall in line when the time comes to write checks for campaign contributions and to cast our votes. Some of us will passionately support some candidates. What other constituency would do that? Would African American voters support a candidate who supported "separate but equal" or courted voters who supported it? Would women voters support a candidate who opposed women's equality or courted voters who did?

When you break things down around issues, some constituencies are considered "single-issue groups," and the conventional wisdom seems to be that getting Democrats elected is more important than any single issue or any single group. And, in that sense, some constituencies—deemed more able to deliver the numbers needed to win power—become more important than others, as do some issues, and must therefore take a back seat.

And when it comes to gays, where else are we gonna go?

Stephen Miller at the Independent Gay Forum linked to a Washington Blade Editorial that sums it up pretty well.

[I]t serves as a reminder of what happens when one party knows it can count on the support of a constituency group, no matter what. We have seen this problem manifest before. When Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat who once publicly supported gay marriage, changed his position and invoked the Catholic sacraments following that state’s high court ruling upholding a gay ban, our national advocacy groups were silent. It's a safe bet that if O'Malley were a Republican, the indignant press releases would have been flying and rallies would have been scheduled for Annapolis.

When Democrats like John Kerry and 2004 running mate John Edwards announce support for anti-gay state marriage amendments and gays line up dutifully behind them anyway, we teach the party that there are no repercussions for betraying us.

This doesn't mean gay voters should pull the lever for any of the Republicans now in the running. Rather, gay voters, donors and campaign staffers need to learn the art of the barter system: you give something, you get something. No one knows that concept better than the evangelical Christians.

And Miller puts it even more succinctly.

"Free gay votes and dollars for Dems; nothing required" has for too long been the operating principle of major national (and some state) LGBT organizations.

After all, you'll get a pass and still get gay votes.

The question is, what are we getting?

Crossposted from The Republic of T.

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Well, I am one gay voter who will not give him a pass. He Sistah Souljah'd us with McClurkin, and it is unforgivable in my book.

Lord, I haven't read AmericaBlog in ages.

Aravosis is supportive of Obama now? I didn't really get why he was so upset over the McClurkin issue, I mean with the "Bigots for Obama" T-shirts and all. It was probably just to get attention.

Anyway, yeah, we need to get more power in the party, but I don't see how that happens. Gays don't just vote Democratic because of gay issues, it's a whole lot more complicated than that. And it's not like the Black evangelicals of SC really got anything from the McClurkin performance in terms of law - it was just a performance.

The Democrats haven't made good really to any constituency so far, so I guess we're all in the same boat together. I think the answer lies in separating money and politics.

But while I can't see why Aravosis was so upset by McClurkin, I also can't understand why so many gays are elated with his comments last Sunday. It was one sentence in a 30-minute speech, and a rather ambiguous sentence at that. The way gays heaped praise on him for that one sentence wasn't becoming - it reeked of desperation.

"From what we know, Caldwell isn't McClurkin - Caldwell may embrace the "ex-gays," but he's not an ex-gay leader like McClurkin (though I'm not going to give the guy any PFLAG awards). "

Not an ex-gay leader? Caldwell backs Metanoia Ministries, a FL-based national organization whose web site advertises: "a healing program for those affected by homosexuality and sexual addiction." Metanoia is affiliated with Exodus International, the "ex-gay" organization. That sounds pretty much like an ex-gay leader to me. He's actually worse than McClurkin as he backs one of the hell-holes that seeks to eradicate us, rather than just preaches the filth.

See: http://www.metanoiaonline.org/index.htm


You're right about the one sentence in Obama's MLK speech. I've had a number of Obama supporters suggest we're supposed to forgive all of his faults (McClurkin, Caldwell, etc.) because he threw us that one crumb. As if. When he stops the double standard for racism vs. homophobia perhaps I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Alex, the key to understanding why that sentence about gay people was so important was its context--it was a choice to challenge his audience when others would have pandered.

Also, that Blade editorial is factually wrong: John Kerry never supported state-level anti-marriage amendments in 2004. Bill Clinton told him to because, he argued, it would help Kerry win in southern states. But Kerry refused to do that.

People aren't giving Obama a pass; they're trusting him to stay true to his word--he asks evangelicals for their votes, but he NEVER tells them that he's going to advocate anti-gay positions.

Ye Olde Fart | January 24, 2008 4:56 PM

I well remember the lies and betrayals of the Clintons while they were in power.
They are starting it all over again.
My choice is between Clinton or Obama. I have no hesitation in choosing Obama at this stage of the game.
I know what the Clintons bring. I've seen it. No thank you.
If Clinton wins the nomination, I will skip the vote for President and go on with the other offices.

Buffy, how is it a fault to be popular amongst anti-gay conservatives while being reliably pro-gay in your own theology and public policy? If anything we should be thrilled that Obama, who is unambiguously pro-LGBT has managed to gain such an enthusiastic audience in communities that aren't good on our issues--he can help them get their heads out of the sand.

Michael Bedwell | January 24, 2008 5:58 PM

Help them get their heads out of the sand my flabby ass!!! That REALLY happened with McClurkin didn't it? And see "McKee" below.

Obama, who is unambiguously pro-LGBT my flabby ass! What about not just his opposition to marriage equality but surrending the word itself to religion when it is CIVIL laws we want changed. Is that not, in effect, saying that it's okay for some issues in our country to be controlled by theocracy not democracy?

Though he seems to have moved beyond it, he said four years ago that he couldn't approve transgender job protections until he saw the proposed law's "language"—he didn't want to scare, e.g., public school administrations. Now he's saying that American-born gays with non-native partners have to bring those partners to America until he sees the language of any immigration law reform to avoid fraud, AS IF that were remotely more important!

In the vernacular of the peasantry, he's doing little more than smile fucking us! His embrace gays not scorn them is not one syllable better than "hate the sin, love the sinner," or "ex-gay" con artists calling their "conversion" conventions "Love Won Out" and it is as FAR from a "challenge" as anything he could say unless he thinks his listeners believe we are the literal equivalent of lepers. He was also demonstrating his ignorance of that particular [Atlanta not South Carolina] congregation who are likely to have heard REAL words against homophobia from Coretta Scott King, her youngest daughter, Julian Bond, et al.

Yes, we MAY want to say that a Democratic candidate swept into the White House on a wave partially empowered with both average and professional gay hatemongers is better than letting a Republican be elected, but no matter how many times that candidate has blown us air kisses we have no reason to believe, by THAT ALONE that we will be in any better place eight years from now. Yes, with a Huckabee, et al., we would probably be worse off in eight years but, fellow scorned sisters and brothers I though Obama was the CHANGE candidate!

Problem is he couldn't even change the vote against Illinois' gay rights bill of his "close friend" and "spiritual advisor" Senator and Rev. James Meeks! Problem is he talks about creating dialogue between homos and homohaters where they change but neither happens. Problem is he thinks "Hugs" are the solution for homophobia. What is he, the long lost black Tele Tubbie?

Go to his and Hillary's and Edwards' official Websites and answers in various debates, etc., and contrast the number of ACTION words coming out of each of their mouths. With rare exception, Obama's verb is always "support," e.g., I support ENDA. Well, won't that get us, Ts included, a bag of chips! Obama was the last to add a real gay page to his site; the last to announce known gay supporters.

Though most have heard it before, it is STILL true that had he found out McClurkin was a rabid antiSemite, who'd said that "[Jews] are killing America's children" he would NEVER have left him the star of the show no matter how many Black votes McClurkin might have attracted. And if, rather than "God delivered me from homosexuality," McClurkin had roared, "Thank God, I'm not a Jew!" even decent but Gentile gays would never have forgiven Obama and he would STILL be apologizing rather than taking bows as the "decider" who didn't pander to gay voters by throwing the viper from his bosom. Are we trading a "I'm never wrong" trust fund cracker with a ranch in Crawford, Texas, for a no less stubborn "Magic Negro" who pays lip service to understanding, because of his parents, the pain and injustice of marriage inequality laws but still denys it to us. Upon the 40th anniversary last year of the Supreme Court case that kept Obama's biracial parents from ever having to worry about going to jail in the US, surviving plaintiff Mildred Loving was quoted as saying,
"I am proud that Richard's and my name are on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all." WERE YOU LISTENING, SEN. OBAMA?????????

Anyone wanting a true measure of how important gay issues are to Obama, scan his official 64-page "Blueprint for Change—Barack Obama's Plan for America." You'd think, like Ahmadinejad's Iran, there are no gays in America for there's not a hint we or the issues he "SUPPORTS" exist. Political necessity, you think? Consider how many antigay voters will actually read it. Edwards devotes several lines of his own plan to advancing gay equality.

Yes, because I won't risk leaving future Supreme Court appointments, Iraq, and health care to ANY Republican, I'll vote for Obama if he gets the NOMINATION. But because I fully expect to wake up January 20th, 2017, without him having initiated or succeeded at anything on his own to make me a first class citizen if he's elected, only a gun to my head would cause me to vote for him in the primary.

beergoggles | January 24, 2008 6:47 PM

If Steve Miller's advise is so great, he should probably try it out on his Republican buddies. Or is this another Republican case of do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do? Seriously, have the Log Cabinettes been so successful in their efforts to be heard within their party that we should now be taking advise from them?

We're only going to get incremental progress (if any) with the Democrats, but it sure beats the BACKSLIDING we'd get with the Repubs. When Miller can name the Republicans who came to the LOGO interview, I'll give him a pass for having something worthwhile to say. Until then Steve, how about you and your 'Independent' buddies can withold your gay dollars from the Republicans and lead by example.

Mclurckin never said gays are "killing America's children." You have been misinformed.
McClurckin is not a great guy, but it's never a good strategy to misrepresent your opponent's positions.

Obama's church was the first in the nation to ordain a black man, a woman, and an openly gay person.

Michael Bedwell | January 24, 2008 8:04 PM

Ah, when you can't deny the poison you're selling inside, parse the words on the warning label. Mea culpa. The National Black Justice Coalition quoted McClurkin as having said about gays, "The gloves are off and if there's going to be a war, there's going to be a war. But it will be a war with a purpose?.I'm not in the mood to play with those who are trying to kill our children."

As for the denomination that Obama is a member of, the wonderful United Church of Christ, being the first nongay denomination to ordain and openly gay man, not only have I met that man, Bill Johnson, not only has one of my best friend "known him" in the proverbial Biblical sense, but more note this:

1. We're not talking about the Barack Obama Church of Christ—he wasn't even a member of the denomination in 1972 when Bill was ordained. I live in San Francisco—that doesn't make me a cable car.

2. In amazing but revealing contradiction to both the fact of his dropping the gay word in various venues [and the fantasy that not only does he mentions us everywhere but counts gays to go to sleep], when he addressed the 50th anniversary national convention of the UCC national last year, he made no mention of the Church's positions on gays in his shout outs to the their long history of taking early proactive positions on controversial civil rights issues. Why, where mentioning us would be no less welcome than at a Gay Pride Parade, did we miss the cut, just like we did of his "Blueprint for Change"? BECAUSE GAYS ARE AN AFTERTHOUGHT TO OBAMA.

3. Contrary to his inexplicable and stubborn refusal to distance himself from McClurkin with whom he had no history, as Bilerico contributor, black lesbian minister Irene Monroe pointed out, when some advisors apparently privately suggested to him that having his beloved own pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who inspired Obama's book "The Audacity of Hope," give a prayer at the huge rally where he officially announced that he was running for President because some of Wright's views might be considered anti-white or antiSemitic, he disinvited his own friend, his inspiration, his own Good Shepherd! Yet, that night, the choir from the mega church of his friend Sen./Rev. Meeks—just as homophobic now as he was before he met Obama—performed at another "Come to Jesus, er, Barack" love-in.

Black gay civil rights icon Bayard Rustin wrote, "We must not confuse charisma with greatness." For so many reasons I wish THAT actually great man were still alive. And one of them is because his brilliant, no-nonsense mind would have set fire to Obama's house of political matches long ago.

McClurkin did indeed say that "gays are trying to kill our children".


And it's a fault to pander to anti-gay conservatives while paying lip-service to LGBT rights as it shows you don't truly support LGBT rights. Obama has twice called for the outright firing of people who have made racist statements (Don Imus, John Tanner) and said clearly that he'd never tolerate racists on his staff. But when it comes to homophobes he willingly hands them a stage, a microphone and a place on his campaign staff. That's blatant hypocrisy. He's saying that racism must be shut down unequivocally but homophobia is OK--particularly if it garners votes and $$$ for him.

He's taking LGBTs for a ride with his alleged support for LGBT rights. His voting record is not better than the other candidates, and his other behavior is far more deplorable.

"But while I can't see why Aravosis was so upset by" McClurkin,

Well, Bilerico...and you specificlly...wrote about this issue exhaustively (how many times did you or a Bilerico contributor write about it?) so you can hardly criticize anyone else.

"I also can't understand why so many gays are elated with his comments last Sunday. It was one sentence in a 30-minute speech, and a rather ambiguous sentence at that. The way gays heaped praise on him for that one sentence wasn't becoming - it reeked of desperation."

Agreed. The comment was sort of dropped in and definitely not worth the hype it received.

MauraHennessey | January 24, 2008 11:57 PM

It is all so wearying to me. The Demoratic Party is still haunted by the fears that they may have lost in 2004 because of "supporting gays." In reality, they lost because the Republicans preached hatred against us and the Democrats remained silent. Things might have been different had they taken a principled stand against hatred. They didn't and we were scapegoated for their lack of courage and indecisiveness.

I cannot support Barack Obama. He gave a platform and legitimacy to an enemy of our equality and indeed our lives. He made him and his cause more respectable than they were beforehand.

The Democrats have been winning by hairbreadths and losing by the same for some time. We may not be the largest component of the party, but we do have the power to affect elections.

"I am not in favour of gay marriage but I will toss you the odd civil union or two" is not equality. It is permanently enshrined second class status. The feminists who were the fire of Abolition in the 1850-60's learned all about that when voting was extended to black men and the very men whose freedom the feminists had fought for declared that this was their time, not women's and would not support an inclusive amendment(incrementalism?)

Well, Donnie can preach all of the hatred that he wants to in an Obama administration and we still will not be able to marry, transsexuals and transgendered people will still likely not have employment of housing protections, and the religion-owned service providers will still be free to discriminate against us.

Just how much enthusiasm does the DNC expect us to have?

R~ Writing about an issue doesn't mean that I was as upset about it as Aravosis was. Rachael Ray speaks exhaustively about food, but that doesn't mean that she hates it and is going to start putting out "Bigots for Cupcakes" T-shirts.

Kev~ Really? That one sentence didn't "challenge" anything. It was just a quick, ambiguous, throw-away remark in the middle of a much larger speech. Getting a boner for it just shows that certain people are desperate for any sort of attention and shows what incredibly low standards we have.

It was ambiguous because Obama wasn't giving a speech about policy (which he doesn't do in churches, as a general rule--in those settings he sticks to larger narratives and visions).

Actually, maybe that's why it was so exciting--instead of feeling like "our issues" were being included in a laundry list of issues, we were being addressed in the context of a larger social vision, as part of a coalitional politics.

I'll be honest though, and say Obama fans are just using it as a hook to get people to listen to the speech, which is a a hell of a speech.

Actually, maybe that's why it was so exciting--instead of feeling like "our issues" were being included in a laundry list of issues, we were being addressed in the context of a larger social vision, as part of a coalitional politics.

This reminds me of the old writers' admonition - show don't tell.

I think that why this little line doesn't really mean much to me, I'm hoping for a little more action and a little more specificity. You see a laundry list, I see a concrete plan.

Just sayin', like someone else pointed out on another thread, his line about homosexuality probably didn't change anyone's mind at that church. He didn't "admonish" or "persuade" anyone to stop being homophobic - he just put it the word out there and quickly moved on.

Now how bout he come speak in front of an MCC next Sunday?

R~ Writing about an issue doesn't mean that I was as upset about it as Aravosis was

Very true. But as a devoted Bilerico reader and a shameless Alex Blaze fan it does sometimes read as if you were still angry/upset about it.