by Dan Savage
on Wed, Sep 1, 2010 at 1:23 PM
I don't care how many Ken Mehlmans come out of the closet or how little gays and lesbians have to show for helping to elect Barack Obama: I can't see myself voting Republican. Because I'm not—despite what you may have read in Slog's comments threads—a single-issue voter. I care about my rights, of course, but I also give a shit about reproductive rights, climate change, the rights of immigrants, the free exercise of religion (look what this "Ground Zero mosque" bullshit forced me to type!), and I much prefer reality-based solutions to the reality-based problems our nation faces. I suspect I'm not the only gay person who feels this way. So these fears seem way overblown to me...
The notion that the gay rights community would abandon the Obama White House over its unwillingness to fully embrace their legislative priorities may seem absurd to the casual political observer. But the recent embrace of same-sex marriage by prominent conservatives, most notably former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, has some Democratic operatives concerned.
On Monday, former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt argued that there was a "strong conservative case to be made in favor of gay marriage" and that more and more Republicans are dropping their opposition to the cause. Shortly thereafter, a prominent Democratic consultant got in touch with the Huffington Post to make the case that the Obama administration risks losing the gay rights community (or at least depressing their votes) with its tepid embrace of their priorities.
"I think they have been put in a tough place by these conservatives and they should be," the consultant said. "There are a whole group of people who are to the left of them on gay rights. And they are Republicans. It should make them feel uncomfortable."
But honestly... I am a lot less enthused about voting for, and giving money to, Democrats these days. Still going to vote for 'em, just not enthused. Feeling pretty tepid. And I suspect that I'm not alone. Backing way the hell up for a moment...
Here's what happens to the gays and our issues when Republicans win the White House or control Congress: not a whole hell of a lot. There's no progress on our issues under Republicans—all forward momentum ceases—but things don't get appreciably worse.* We have to endure small outrages and insults, put up with slights, and be vigilant about legislative malice, but we don't see a big rollback of previously secured rights. The Bush administration got everything it wanted out of Congress but it didn't get the FMA or a ban on same-sex couples adopting. Eight years of Bush meant no progress at the federal level on our issues—lots of bullshit at the state level in the form of anti-gay marriage amendments (most of them orchestrated by some straight guy named Ken Mehlman)—but no ground lost.
When we open our wallets for Democrats—and vote for them—the hope is that electing a Democratic president and Congress will result in significant progress on our issues. That's not just our delusional hope; that was an explicit promise made to us by Democrats. Once the Democrats were in power, everyone from Obama on down promised us, we would see real and significant progress on our issues: an end to DADT and DOMA, action on ENDA, a president willing to use the bully pulpit to aggressively defend our rights. But if, as we've seen, working to elect a Democratic president and give Democrats control of Congress results in no progress on our issues—no action on DADT, ENDA, or DOMA—then why the fuck should we bother?
If we get no progress under Democrats (just empty promises meant to excite their base), but no regress under Republicans (just empty threats meant to excite their base), why should we waste our time—and our money—worrying about who's in charge?
Still, I don't think Ken Mehlman going public with his cocksucking and his regrets and the Democrats refusal to make good on a single significant campaign promise made to the gay community during the elections of 2006 and 2008 will result in gays and lesbians abandoning the Democratic party in favor of the GOP. Being reminded that DOMA and DADT were signed by a Democratic president—thanks again, Bill—didn't move us into McCain's camp in 2008. We know who our friends are—our pathetic, ineffectual, useless friends—and we know who our enemies are. But the uselessness of the Dems has resulted in gay checkbooks snapping shut and it's definitely contributing to the "enthusiasm gap" that threatens to hand control of Congress to Republicans.
And here's the most hilarious thing about Democratic cowardice where our issues are concerned: voters who hate the gays don't hate Obama and the Democrats in Congress one iota less for breaking their promises to gay and lesbian community. Just going by the action alerts sent out by rightwing Christian groups—I get all their emails—you would think Obama ("the most radically pro-homosexual president in our history") had legalized same-sex marriage, ended DADT, enacted ENDA, and sent federal troops into suburban mega-churches and forced conservative Christian pastors to perform gay weddings at gunpoint.
So here's where we're at: everyone who cares about gay issues is mad at the Democrats. The homophobes are angry because the Democrats suggested that they might do something about gay rights; gays and lesbians are furious with the Democrats for failing to do something—failing to do anything—about gay rights. Since doing nothing pisses off the gay haters just as much as doing something, perhaps the Dems should've have done something and won the enthusiastic support of someone.
* I'm setting Reagan and AIDS aside, and that's one great, big, enormous, huge set-aside, I realize. But that was a pretty exceptional circumstance (that's why we called it the "AIDS crisis"). The Reagan administration failed to act and allowed gay people to die—with an invaluable assist from a gay sex culture bent on suicide and self-destruction—but Reagan "revolutionaries" didn't undo what few rights we enjoyed when they were swept into office.