3 min

Presidential candidates disappoint on queer issues

Even leading Democrats fail to convince anyone that they're fully for gay rights

So, it’s Hillary versus Obama, and McCain versus Romney. Setting aside from the fact that Democrats seem to prefer first names, there is a lot at stake in the run up to the US presidential election. With stuff like war, climate change and the future of the so-called free world at stake, it isn’t particularly surprising that gay rights aren’t getting a lot of attention.

But gay rights are very much at stake in this election. And the various candidate positions on gay rights are a pretty good weather vane of the state of union.

The leading Republican candidates are, not surprisingly, just the kind of run-of-the-mill anti-gay politicians that one would expect. With a bit of a twist. The two leading Republican candidates seem to have actually supported gay rights at some point.

Mitt Romney had the political misfortune of being Governor when Massachusetts became the only state in the union to legalize same-sex marriage. During the campaign, he has made it his mission to emphasize just how opposed he is to it.

Seems as if he has some other explaining to do, too. When he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1994, he campaigned on a promise of being a more effective champion of gay rights than then-Senator Ted Kennedy. He has since had to bend over backwards to convince the hardline conservatives that he really, truly, deeply, has changed his mind.

Senator John McCain also has some explaining to do. He opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, an attempt by the federal government to amend the constitution to prevent same-sex marriage. It’s not that he was in favour of same-sex marriage; it’s just that, like many other Republicans, he was concerned about the right of states to decide this issue, and so opposed overturning the Massachusetts law.

And McCain seems to be having a hard time coming up with a clear position. Asked by one MSNBC journalist whether he thought gay marriage should be allowed, he said, “I think that gay marriage should be allowed, if there’s a ceremony kind of thing, if you want to call it that.” But a few minutes later he loops back and says, “Could I just mention one other thing? On the issue of the gay marriage, I believe if people want to have private ceremonies, that’s fine. I do not believe that gay marriages should be legal.” A little something for everyone perhaps? Trying to appease the social and religious conservatives who hate gay marriage, and the libertarian types who don’t think that the state should get overly involved in the private lives of its citizens?

You don’t have to go that far down the list of candidates to find a couple of real, old fashioned, gay-hating homophobes. Like the libertarian Ron Paul, whose stunningly racist and homophobic newsletters have recently been exposed in the New Republic. But the leaders have a rather more spotty record on hating gays. Seems as if they just haven’t done it well enough for their conservative constituency.

A sign of the times, perhaps. Even in the land of the free, where the majority of states have passed anti-gay marriage laws and constitutional amendments, there are cracks in the homophobes’ armor. Senator Hilary Clinton says she supports civil unions, but not same-sex marriage. And Senator Barack Obama is trying to appeal across the ideological divide of America, and using his religion to do it. And he, too, knows that same-sex marriage just isn’t a winner. And he’s against it anyways.

In fairness, both support adoption rights for same-sex couples, think that the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the US military needs to be reconsidered, and support anti-discrimination laws for gay men and lesbians.

But, on same-sex marriage, well, even the leading Democrats — the hope of tomorrow, the candidates of change, or whatever they want to call themselves — leave a lot to be desired.

The state of the union? It seems as if the leading Republicans can’t really convince anyone that they are fully against gay rights, and the leading Democrats can’t really convince anyone that they are fully for gay rights.