S.C. Equality has long been one of the key players in promoting equal rights and opportunity for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the South Carolina Midlands and beyond. As a member of that community who is familiar with and benefits from their tireless hard work, they have earned my admiration and respect many times over.
Yet it is precisely out of my respect for the organization and its leadership that I balk at their February 5 endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who held an enormously beneficial fundraiser for the organization in November. Such an endorsement implies the unequivocal superiority of the selected candidate’s record on issues relevant to the group. I’m afraid that record is absent. Compared to the other Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, with whom Clinton is currently tied neck-and-neck at the national level, Clinton’s history on LGBTQ equality is at best similar—and at worst comparably dismal.
It is by now well-know that Sanders defended military LGBTQ individuals as early as 1995, when he objected to the flamboyant rhetoric (“homos in the military!”) of California’s Rep. Duke Cunningham on the House floor. But he actually appears always to have supported anti-discrimination laws, as evidenced by a 1970s letter on behalf of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont and available on Alternet. He supported gay pride celebrations and anti-discrimination ordinances throughout the 1980s. He was also an early supporter of civil unions—an example of his willingness to make moderate progress when the ideal cannot yet be achieved—and was a champion both against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and for the right of LGBTQ individuals to marry in Vermont in 2009.
Clinton’s record is relatively appalling. Where Sanders’ initial support for civil unions rather than marriage seemed largely practical, Clinton’s objections were decidedly moral. She supported DOMA in 1996. “I believe marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” she stated in 2004 on the Senate floor. When the State Department changed passport forms to read “Parent 1 and Parent 2” instead of “Mother and Father” in 2010, she “disagreed” and swiftly catalyzed a reversal of the decision, adding that she “could live w[ith] letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father.” Not until 2013 did she reveal unconditional support for same-sex marriage—so late in the day that it came at no political risk whatsoever. Support is support, but let’s be transparent about that fact that, as Kate McKinnon chides with a wink, “coulda been sooner.”
No doubt Sanders’ history of relatively liberal views on LGBTQ rights will count as a strike against for conservatives to whom this is an important issue. It should come as no surprise that his record on civil rights as a whole is astounding, which is remarkable given his identity as a white heterosexual male and secular Jew. Members of our community who are serious about choosing the best candidate to represent our interests should engage in some serious dialogue and research before making their choice. My only concern here is to set the record straight: no, Clinton is not the “champion” for LGBTQ rights that the Human Rights Campaign and others have touted her to be. Sanders, by comparison, is.
This op-ed was published in abbreviated form on 22 February 2016 at The State: