Judging from recent statements made by both leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, I would surmise that we probably won’t be getting a clear statement from either of the Democratic candidates or from the Party that gay men and women are full fledged human beings. And if you think that such a commitment is too much to ask for in the current American political environment, since their waffling on the question of gay dignity was put forth in the context of morality, I would also surmise that we’re not even going to get a clear statement from the candidates or the Party insisting on the separation of Church and State. So, where does that leave the gay community politically, now, and when we vote in the 2008 elections?
Quite clearly, the discourse around “family values” is the principal area in which the Democrats feel vulnerable. The war in Iraq, corruption scandals, abuse of power, and manifest administrative in competence have left the Republicans almost without hope for 2008; their only card left to play is “morality” and political gay bashing. The Democrats can neutralize the Republican position on this issue by agreeing with them, or at least not opposing them too strongly. What do the Democrats have to lose? Their political analysts certainly have assured them that the gay community will vote overwhelmingly Democratic, anyway, regardless of the Party’s or the candidates’ position on gay issues.
The Democratic analysts are, of course, right. The large majority of gay men and women would feel much more comfortable with a Democratic administration and Congress, regardless of their official position on issues directly affecting gays. Despite their lack of overt and practical support, Democrats are still considered by most gays to be our friends, at least secretly. At least they tend not to be overtly homophobic (although I do find even Ms. Clinton’s “cover up” statement patronizing and ultimately fuzzy--- Gays are OK because they are willing to die in Iraq. Does that mean that our “patriotism” somehow cancels out our “immorality?”).
But should we simply sit by and silently watch as the people we hope will be representing us pander to the religious right and the homophobes? Should we insist more strongly upon a clearer and unambiguous statement supporting our humanity? And if we decide that we must take action, what, in fact, can we do?
Threatening to sit home on election- day would be both counterproductive and futile. Even in the unlikely eventuality that the gay voting population voted overwhelmingly along gay political lines, our community is not large enough to counterbalance what the Democrats might lose by overtly and strongly supporting us on the “morality” issue. And ultimately, what would we gain by another Republican administration?
The gay community has, however, weapons at hand at least as potent as our votes--- our time and our money. Commercial America has already shown itself quite aware of the economic clout of the gay community in increasingly gay oriented marketing campaigns: We are no longer even surprised by “gay friendly” advertisements and films. We are an economic force in America that must be reckoned with. Commercial America has seen it, and now political America must recognize it, too.
In like fashion, gays in America have shown themselves to be more present in political action than our numbers would indicate. Perhaps because we, for the most part, do not have families and children to worry about, we gays seem to be more likely to devote our time and efforts to political action than our straight counterparts.
In short, while I probably will wind up pushing the lever on election- day for the Democratic candidate, I will not contribute one penny or spend one minute of my time to support a candidate or party who does not fully recognize my humanity. This is the message that the leaders of the gay community need to communicate to the Democrats. They may be able to force us into voting for the Democratic candidate by default, but that will not be enough to elicit our active support. A deal needs to be cut with the Party, and soon.
Of course, any deal would have to take into consideration the homophobic environment in which the election will take place. It would be futile for us to insist upon the Democrats’ support for same sex marriage, but it would not be unreasonable, for example, for us to insist that the candidates help educate the American people to the fact that most of Europe, the area of the world from which the overwhelming majority of Americans and American cultural institutions descend philosophically, plus our neighbor to the north, Canada, have already given some form of legal recognition to gay partnerships. America is becoming increasingly isolated in an important human rights issue. The exact formula of the understanding between the candidates and the gay community should, of course, be a matter of discussion, but some understanding beyond the mealy mouthed waffling we have seen in recent days needs to be reached.
Of course, in order to make this strategy effective, the gay community needs to reorganize. We have to communicate, as a community, to the candidates and the party what we expect of them. Then, if and when financial contributions are made or political support is undertaken, such action should be made either through the gay community or in some way that makes it apparent that it is related to the candidate’s or the party’s support of gay issues.
This message to the Democrats should not be viewed as political pressure or blackmail. Every dollar or minute spent in support of a Democratic candidate is a dollar or minute less what could have been devoted to AIDS research, legal support of gay rights issues, counseling services, etc. It has to be worth it.
(A New York Times article published 16 March reports that the gay community has, in fact begun to use the strategy outlined above, and it seems to be working. Under pressure from gay organizations, both Ms Clinton and Mr. Obama have issued clearer, less ambiguous statements that they do not believe that homosexuality is immoral. Well, it’s a start. But just a start.)