I've said before that I'm not supporting either Clinton or Obama in the Democratic primaries, and I'm still not. (Though, as the contest wears on, one campaign is seriously trying my patience.) In part, that's the differences between them, for the most part, are still not that stark to me. And when it comes to gay issues, the difference is becoming less clear in some ways.
That said, something Hillary said recently set me off. Truth be told, I probably should have included Obama in the title of the this post -- given the latest news about his campaign -- but it wouldn't have had the same ring to me. I also don't have as much history with Obama as I do with the Clintons.
I'll just come right out and say it. I have a learned distrust of the Clintons, particularly when it comes to gay issues. In some some ways, it's akin to remaining just a little bitter towards the first lover who broke your heart. Having spent my formative years as a gay man in the dark tunnel of the Reagan/Bush years, like a lot of gays and lesbians in 1992 I saw Bill Clinton as a light at the end of the tunnel when he said to gay and lesbian Americans, "I have a vision for America, and you are part of it."
Still, no major Democratic candidate has made the kind of sweeping statement of inclusion as did Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992, when he declared to a huge crowd of LGBT people in Los Angeles, "I have a vision for America and you are part of it." His words brought tears to the eyes of the audience and rang out across the United States. Even the most skeptical of us in the LGBT community knew that we heard something previously unspoken by any major political figure.
With that, Clinton became the first (and last) presidential candidate I felt passionate about supporting. Maybe it was Clinton's fault for over-promising. Maybe it was my fault -- along with other gay activists -- for having unrealistic expectations; for daring, that is to hope. But the light at the end of the tunnel turned out to be a train. And the hard lesson learned is that no on candidate can really give you hope. At least not with promises and speeches. Hope comes from the work we do with our own hands and voices, while we wait for politicians to catch up.
So, I was more than a little skeptical when I read that Hillary Clinton declared she would defend equality and eliminate disparities for same-sex couples.
Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she would defend gay rights as president and eliminate disparities for same-sex couples in federal law, including immigration and tax policy.
Clinton said states such as New Jersey and Massachusetts are extending rights to gay couples "and the federal government should recognize that and should extend the same access to federal benefits across the board. I will very much work to achieve that."
Clinton's comments came in an interview with the Philadelphia Gay News that was posted on its Web site Thursday.
Clinton said she and her husband have many gay friends that they socialize with when they get the chance. "I've got friends, literally, around the country that I'm close to. It's part of my life," she said.
She said that when they ask her why they can't get married, she tells them marriage is a state law. She said that fact helped defeat a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex weddings that she said would "enshrine discrimination in the Constitution."
"States are really beginning seriously to deal with the whole range of options, including marriage, both under their own state constitutions and under the legislative approach," she said. "I anticipate that there will be a very concerted amount of effort in the next couple of years that will move this important issue forward and different states will take different approaches as they did with marriage over many years and you will see an evolution over time."
Nice words. But I've heard such promises from a candidate named Clinton before. So, I have to ask one question.
If I've learned nothing from the Clinton years it's that there are limits to what a president can do regarding LGBT equality. Aside from a willingness to sign supportive legislation passed by Congress, a president can issue pro-equality executive orders, as Bill Clinton did with Executive Order 13087, which amended an earlier order, to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation regarding federal government employees. A new president could preserve and enforce that order. And I suppose a president could issue an executive order to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."
But, as far as I know, that's it. The only other significance might be what a president won't do. In that sense, it'd be nice to have a president who doesn't use his/her office as a bully pulpit to advocate discrimination against same-sex couples, and even enshrine it in the constitution. By the same token, a president could use his/her office as a platform to speak out in favor of equality.
Unfortunately, we have two candidates who are too hamstrung by other issues to fully make that leap. We have one candidate who is (a) opposed to same-sex marriage on the federal level, (b) is find leaving it to the states (a strategy which has almost never led to progressive change on civil rights), and to that end (b) supports only a partial repeal of DOMA, which would leave intact the clause allowing states not to recognize same-sex unions. Her solutions wouldn't necessarily stop stories like the second one in the previous post from happening. She has gay friends, but can't bring herself to fully support their equality.
We have another candidate who is also opposed to same-sex marriage (for religious reason, I guess), doesn't mind the likes of Donnie McClurkin, does at least support a full repeal of DOMA, but hasn't talked to the gay press in a while. (Perhaps to avoid upsetting the voters he hopes to win over with the support of folks like McClurkin, which is something else that I keep meaning to post about.)
So, it's nice to hear a candidate say things like this:
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that people like you and Portia and others have a chance to have, you know, rights to be able to go to the hospital, to inherit property, to make sure that you can list somebody as a beneficiary on an insurance policy," Clinton said in an interview to air Monday on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."
That's nice. But if Clinton, or any other candidate has solutions, put them on the table and tell us what you're actually going to do.
If Democrats and progressives are convinced that righting for legal marriage isn't effective right now, then we need to find another way to protect our families right now, not ten or twenty or thirty years down the line. We need to do more than shake our heads and say it's a shame that happens. If civil unions are the answer, then great. Let's craft legislation, or pour resources into states where it's achievable. But let's do something besides "just wait."
In other words, don't just tell me what cha' gonna do for me, Hillary (Obama, or anyone else who wants to chime in). Tell me how.
Crossposted from The Republic of T.