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The Kerry gamble.

As far as gay rights are concerned, this election is not a close one. One candidate has gone out of his way to endorse equality for gays and lesbians. One wants to relegate us to second-class status in the very Constitution and, for good measure, will not even mention us by name. Kerry beats Bush by a mile. But that in itself is a problem. What it does, alas, is leave us with very little leverage over the Democratic nominee. And if you look forward a couple of years, that could be a very dangerous situation.

First the good news. Kerry isn't Clinton. He won't, in all likelihood, double the rate of discharges from the military, and he favors near-equality for same-sex unions under the law. Back in 1996 when President Clinton was busy canoodling with Dick Morris and seeing how he could win reelection by stigmatizing our marriage rights, Kerry was taking a stand, giving a remarkably strong speech on the Senate floor against the Clinton-backed Defense of Marriage Act. (You can read it in full in my new anthology, Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con, a Reader.) Here's a highlight:

"DOMA is unconstitutional, unprecedented, and unnecessary. Again, I return to the original questions: What is its legislative purpose? What is its motivation? What does passage of this bill mean for the country? It is hard to believe that this bill is anything other than a thinly veiled attempt to score political debating points by scape-goating gay and lesbian Americans. That is politics at its worst."

Stirring stuff--and right. But--and here's the nub--all of this was said in the context of Kerry opposing marriage equality. He was as clear in that speech as he is today: "I am not for same sex marriage. I have said that publicly. I would not vote for same-sex marriage." In other words, Kerry's opposition to our right to marry is potentially more damaging than Bush's, because it clearly can not be ascribed to bigotry or prejudice or pandering to the far right. Of course, Kerry has never explained exactly why he opposes marriage rights for gays. His first attempt was that gay marriage wasn't procreative, but he soon dropped that argument. But no new argument has taken its place. All Kerry says now is that he simply personally believes that marriage should be reserved for straights. Twice, if necessary, as his own civil divorce attests.

So assume that Kerry is elected president this November. Now fast-forward to November 2006. In Massachusetts, the one state where our equality now exists, there will be a referendum on all amendment to the state constitution. The measure proposes that marriage rights be removed from gay couples and replaced with "civil unions," institutions that grant all the same rights as marriage--in so far as the state can bestow them. And Kerry is publicly in support of that amendment. And he is from Massachusetts. And he is president. Connect the dots: He could be critical in taking away civil rights in the one state where we now have them. And, by his obvious comfort with gay people, he would help to legitimize the notion that it's OK to shepherd us into the "separate but equal" category of civil unions. The Human Rights Campaign, long leery of supporting marriage rights, will likely give him cover. So will many gay Democrats.

I'm not saying that gay voters should not support Kerry. I just don't want to live through another Clinton ordeal. I don't want a "pro-gay" president getting away with trashing our civil rights just because he's not as hostile as the alternative. I don't want to see the gay rights movement co-opted by such a compromise. Kerry says in response that he favors giving gay couples every federal benefit that straight couples have. But he knows this is an easy promise, because it will never be passed. And--mark my words--he will not expend any political capital to enact it.

Yes, Kerry is by far the lesser of two evils. But don't mistake him for the messiah. The last one didn't turn out so great.
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Title Annotation:against the current; John Kerry's policies on gay and lesbian rights
Author:Sullivan, Andrew
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 17, 2004
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