Last week, a table from Marriage Equality USA that graphically organized all of the LGBT-related stances and positions of each presidential candidate, circulated around the LGBT blogosphere. 13 candidates - 12 GOP nominee hopefuls and President Barack Obama - were included in the graph. Ned Flaherty from MEUSA has been working on compiling the chart, updating it as candidates' positions change or - or course - "evolve."
After closer reflection on the chart, some inconsistencies in the candidates' positions are clear, so it's important that the methodology and background of the table are fully understood. Most glaringly, GOP candidate Buddy Roemer (right) is listed as "maybe" supporting "full marriage" equality, although he is also listed as opposed to repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Similarly, Roemer is listed as opposing open military service but supports LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination measures and protections for federal civilian workers.
In order to understand where these contradictions are coming from, it's important to understand Flaherty's methodology, which is listed on the MEUSA website:
Starting in August 2011, a survey was delivered to the office of each active, formally announced candidate via e-mail, web mail, and/or facsimile, and also via certified U.S. mail for which a staff member signed a receipt confirming the delivery. Each candidate's survey showed his or her latest stand on each LGBT issue, based on speeches made, documents signed, and interviews given. All candidates were invited to notify MEUSA of updates to their positions as they occur, up through election day on 6 November 2012.
Some of the candidates - including Roemer (who updated his stances on August 16) - have contacted Flaherty to change their responses, but although all of the candidates have verified they have received the survey, not all of them - including Obama - have yet returned it.
The Bilerico Project spoke via email with Ned Flaherty, who created the chart for Marriage Equality USA, to clarify some other aspects of the table. It's clear that much of the confusion associated with the table is a product of the candidates' own inconsistent stances. The table is simply a combined, visual representation of what the politicians have claimed to support or oppose, and which they have waffled on. We spoke specifically with Flaherty about Buddy Roemer's inconsistencies, Obama's stances, and the continued methodology of the table. (A Q&A with Flaherty is after the jump.)
AP:To be clear, what does "maybe" mean?
NF: "Maybe" means that a candidate claims he envisions likely circumstances under which he would say "yes," as well as equally likely circumstances under which he would say "no."
AP: How do you explain Roemer's "maybe" position on "full marriage" rights, but his opposition to repeal of DOMA?
NF: Buddy Roemer reviewed all 12 of the original positions that we assigned to him, changed 3 of them, and chose to leave the other 9 unchanged. To be precise, it's incorrect to say merely that we "listed" him that way, because the fact is that he intentionally chose those 12 positions, in conjunction with his campaign staff, and they forwarded the results to me for continuous publication until further notice. While his positions may strike some as contradictory, they're his positions, he chose them, and he wants them published just as they are. Across the six "Same-Sex Marriage" issue columns, 7 of the 13 candidates have chosen positions that contain various contradictions. Roemer's not the only culprit. All 7 of those candidates deserve to be asked by journalists, voters, and other candidates exactly why they supports x but not y.
AP:Obama has stated that he is "evolving" on the issue of marriage equality, has said he would stop defending DOMA, and is in favor of civil unions and domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. Roemer, on the other hand, is opposed to DOMA repeal and many other LGBT protections. Are their "maybe" positions on full marriage equality really equal, and should they be viewed as the same?
NF: Multiple candidates can hold a position of "yes" or "no" or "maybe" on various issues, but for very different reasons, so it's not correct to equate Roemer's full-marriage "maybe" with Obama's full-marriage "maybe," unless both candidates themselves give you the exact same rationale.
AP: Obama has repeatedly stated that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Why, then, is he listed as "maybe" for full marriage equality?
NF: Yes, Obama is really "maybe" on full marriage - but only - and entirely - because he says so. There's no insinuation on anyone's part; Obama and his campaign staff chose that as their official, public position. It's understandable for people to challenge the intelligence of such a design; however, all explanation and justification have to come from the team that made the decision.
AP: Hasn't Obama stated that he supports the protections afforded by the Employee Non-Discrimination Act? Why, then, is he a "maybe" on the LGBT Job Discrimination categories?
NF: Obama did previously support ENDA, but when White House spokesperson Jay Carney was asked this spring whether Obama is open to issuing executive orders prohibiting LGBT discrimination for people working in private industry and working as civilians for the military, Carney was evasive, so that's one reason why Obama reverted to only a "maybe."
AP: Has the Obama administration responded to your survey?
NF: Obama and his campaign staff have this table on their desks, and they decided to leave all 12 positions as first published one week ago. On behalf of MEUSA, I placed 3 phone calls to President Obama's campaign staff about his positions on these 12 issues during the first 2 weeks of August 2011. The staff confirmed that all 3 calls had been logged and delivered to the correct people, but none of those calls were ever returned, and his staff would not say when - or even whether - any calls would be returned.
(Continued) Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina also has on his desk a certified letter from me on behalf of MEUSA, which his staff signed for, notifying him of what's being reported to the public, and inviting him to update the president's positions whenever they change. Mr. Messina knows these positions are being re-published weekly across the nation for use by 31 million LGBT voters, and he knows that a Republican candidate currently outperforms President Obama, on both the civilian worker issue and the full marriage issue. So far, Mr. Messina has decided not to change any of the 12 reported positions. He was invited to do that via phone, e-mail, postal mail, and/or facsimile, whichever is most convenient. If you want to call Rollins yourself, you can ask him when -- or whether -- he plans to reply to U.S. certified mail letter 7010-3090-0001-9867-3284, signed for at 10:58 this morning.
See the full chart below. The chart is being updated as or if candidates respond with changes. The last update is from August 17.