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HRC endorses Kerry despite marriage issue

Democrat criticized on Mass. marriage amendment support


Jun. 18, 2004

Despite his support for a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts banning gay marriage, the Human Rights Campaign enthusiastically endorsed Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) for president on Tuesday, noting his “stellar record” on gay issues.

“We enthusiastically endorse Sen. Kerry for president,” said Cheryl Jacques, president of the nation’s largest gay-rights organization. “Not simply for his stellar record, but because he gave his endorsement to equality long before it was fashionable.”

The decision was made by HRC’s board of directors and is the organization’s third presidential endorsement in its 25-year history.

Part of Kerry’s “stellar” record, Jacques said, was his “no” vote — along with 13 other senators — against the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act. Jacques also noted the senator’s opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban gay marriage in the United States. Kerry has also been a vocal critic of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which keeps gays from serving openly in the armed forces.

In the press release announcing the endorsement, Kerry is quoted as welcoming the HRC nod.

“I want to thank HRC for its endorsement. We have worked together on so many battles and we still have many challenges ahead of us,” Kerry is quoted as saying. “I know that America finds its strength in the diversity of this great country. I have worked for than 20 years to make sure that LGBT Americans are treated with dignity in our society and equality in our laws. That fight is not over and I will be there for the fights in the future.”

‘Disgusting pandering’?

But some activists remain concerned about Kerry’s commitment to gay rights, mostly because he has endorsed a state constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would ban same-sex marriage. The amendment, which has passed one joint session of the state’s legislature, could permanently prohibit the issuance of marriage licenses to gay couples in the only state in the nation where they are presently available.

Robin Tyler, longtime gay activist and co-founder of DontAmend.com, called the endorsement “embarrassing and egregious,” and blasted HRC for “pandering” to individuals “who aren’t with us.”

“HRC is showing that they are accountable to Barney Frank rather than the GLBT movement,” Tyler said, referring to the gay Massachusetts Congressman who is backing Kerry’s candidacy.

“To watch somebody pander to someone who believes we should have less than equal rights is disgusting,” she said. “HRC needs to decide if they are going to continue to be the wife of Barney Frank or if they are going to be a leader and we as a community must have the courage to confront Kerry on his positions. HRC is symptomatic of us. We must stop asking for acceptance and start kicking ass.”

Detroit Free Press columnist Deb Price noted during a HRC news conference on the endorsement that Kerry has been “very forceful” in his opposition to gay marriage and has been hostile when pressed by the media for a more direct answer on how he reconciles his support for a state marriage amendment and his opposition to a federal amendment.

While Jacques said Kerry gets “no pass” on the marriage issue, she added that his position is not much different than the rest of the country’s when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage.

“America is grappling with the issue of same-sex marriage,” Jacques said. “They do know they oppose amending the Constitution even though they are not quite crazy about gay marriage. Kerry will have an open heart and open mind and continue this conversation.”

Jacques said she has received “110 percent commitment” from Kerry, personally, that “he would do everything in his power to stop the FMA and any such constitutional amendment” from passing.

Winnie Stachelberg, political director for HRC, said the group did not extract any specific promises from the Kerry campaign in exchange for the endorsement except that he would use “the bully pulpit” of the presidency to fight for gay and lesbian equality.

Criticism from Chicago

Not all gay advocacy groups were happy with HRC’s endorsement of Kerry. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, a group formed in response to three 1998 anti-gay assaults in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, announced a plan to protest an HRC fund-raiser on Saturday with Gov. Howard Dean, a stand-in for Kerry, and Barack Obama, a Democrat running for the U.S. Senate against Republican Jack Ryan.

In a news release, the group criticizes Obama for mimicking “Kerry’s slippery gamesmanship” on the marriage issue.

“Obama says he opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment, but also says he opposes gay marriage, contending that ‘civil union’ should be good enough for gays,” according to the release. “John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, says that while he opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment, he also opposes gay marriage and says he supports a proposed anti-gay amendment to the Massachusetts State Constitution.

“In other words,” CABN complaine, “[Kerry] calls for destroying equal marriage rights in the one state where they have been secured! Democratic office holders in Massachusetts are in the forefront of a move which could once again ban gay marriage there as early as 2006.”

Andy Thayer, co-founder of CABN and national action director for DontAmend.com, called the HRC endorsement “outrageous,” adding that the gay community “is the only minority community who would endorse someone who doesn’t think we are deserving of full-equality.”

“John Kerry is offering us nothing,” Thayer said. “Massachusetts became the one state that moved us toward equality. This is the one state where we have won this, and Kerry wants to repeal that legal equality? I look at national leaders, kissing up to the Kerry camp and I see nothing but a base scramble for jobs and money in a new administration.”

No-show on hate crimes

Kerry, along with Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), was absent from Tuesday’s Senate vote on legislation that would add sexual orientation to federal hate crime laws. The Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act passed 65 to 33, with all Democratic senators voting in favor, including Sen. Robert Byrd (W.Va.) who has opposed the measure in the past.

According to the Congressional Record, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said before the vote that the two senators were “necessarily absent.”

Jeff Trammell, the Kerry campaign’s gay liaison, said the senator “very, very strongly supported that bill,” was a co-sponsor and regretted he couldn’t make the vote because of a campaign event.

“The reality is that when you run for president, you miss votes and if it is going to be close, you try to come back,” Trammell said.

Jacques said she understood the practical realities and scheduling constraints that are a part of a presidential campaign, adding that if Kerry’s vote was needed, “He would have been on a plane back to D.C.”

Stachelberg said it was not unusual for HRC to endorse Sen. Kerry even before he selects a running mate, and added that Kery will “chose a nominee equal to his dedication for GLBT rights.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a rumored potential Kerry running mate, voted against Tuesday’s hate crime measure. Jacques said it was not a concern to her since “there is nothing to those rumors.”

HRC-PAC has launched a new feature on its Web site entitled, “e-Quality Candidates,” which identifies congressional candidates in tough election battles who are considered pro-gay. The new feature allows donors to make direct campaign contributions to the selected candidates “and to route those contributions through HRC for maximum impact.”

Joe Crea can be reached at jcrea@washblade.com

© 2004 The Houston Voice | A Window Media Publication



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