Guest Blogger

Edwards knows all LGBT politics is local

Filed By Guest Blogger | November 17, 2007 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: election 2008, Eric Stern, guest post, John Edwards, LGBT civil rights, LGBT community, presidency

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This guest post comes to the Bilerico Project from Eric J. Stern. Eric is the former Executive Director of National Stonewall Democrats and the former Director of LGBT Outreach for the Democratic National Committee. He currently serves as the Associate Director of Career Development at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law (Boalt Hall) and is a Volunteer Advisor to the John Edwards for President Campaign. This is the first time Eric has contributed to the Project.

ericstern.jpgWhile I believe that the Democratic Party has a tremendous field of candidates, I ultimately decided to endorse John Edwards for President and signed on as a volunteer adviser to his presidential campaign in January of this year. I initially got into politics and advocacy because of my passion for helping underserved communities. Edwards' focus on poverty alleviation and his REAL plan on universal health care and leveling the playing field in public education is unmatched by other candidates and, in fact, has forced the other candidates to re-focus on these issues.

The Edwards Campaign from day one has worked very hard to cultivate LGBT support across the nation and to seek our input and ideas—as opposed to simply our money. Our LGBT steering committee has been incorporated into all aspects of the campaign, resulting in the Edwards campaign being the first to release a public list of high-level LGBT supporters, the first to release a questionnaire to HRC, the first to release a comprehensive HIV/AIDS policy, and the first to have its candidate visit a LGBT community center and to have the candidate's spouse participate in a gay pride event. And, in an early and pivotal moment in the campaign, Edwards clearly denounced General Pace’s statement that homosexuals were immoral. This was in striking contrast to how Hillary and Obama responded to the same question.

Edwards supports immigration equality and repealing all portions of DOMA—Hillary and Obama do not. And while John Edwards is not yet a supporter of marriage equality, he has pledged to use the power of the White House to rid the federal laws of anti-gay discrimination and extend all of the federal benefits of marriage to same-sex couples in committed relationships. And, while I wish he was now a supporter of marriage equality, I believe that a candidate whose wife and daughter support equality will get there much earlier than a candidate whose husband signed DOMA and encouraged Senator Kerry to support the FMA and anti-gay state constitutional amendments in order to win more conservative votes.

While much of the focus of the campaign thus far has been on foreign policy, immigration and health care, I believe that there is an important theme in this election cycle that is directly relevant to our work as LGBT community activists. As most of us now realize, almost all of the victories for our community have been at the state and local level. These victories are due to the hard work, persistence and talent of LGBT statewide organizations and their allies. Because these activists devoted their lives to educating their neighbors and elected representatives, we have marriage in Massachusetts, civil unions in New Jersey, Vermont, California, New Hampshire and Connecticut, and laws providing workplace equality, safe schools, protection from hate crimes and domestic partnership registries in dozens of states and local municipalities.

Many of us have also worked very hard to elect Democratic Governors and Democratic legislators in our home states. And as a result of the officials we helped to elect in 2006 and because of the state and local LGBT organizations on the ground working to close the deal after these individuals were elected, we have seen some real results in the states with direct benefits for our community, including, among many other accomplishments:

  • In Iowa, new Democratic Governor Chet Culver signed a state Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) into law.
  • In Colorado, new Democratic Governor Bill Ritter signed a second parent adoption bill.
  • In Ohio, new Democratic Governor Ted Strickland signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • In Oregon, newly-reelected Governor Democratic Ted Kulongoski signed domestic partner and state ENDA bills. (Democrats took control of the State House and passed domestic partner and state ENDA bills.)
  • In New Hampshire, State Democrats who won a majority in the state Senate and the first Democratic majority in the State House since the Civil War passed a civil unions bill and defeated a proposed constitutional amendment that would have barred same-sex marriage. Newly-reelected Democratic Governor John Lynch signed a civil unions bill into law.
  • In Massachusetts, new Democratic Governor Deval Patrick led the successful effort to keep an anti-marriage amendment off the ballot.
  • Democrats in the Alaska legislature defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit domestic partner benefits for state employees, while Democratic state legislatures in Maryland and North Carolina defeated proposed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage.
  • The Democratic legislature in Vermont passed a bill prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity, while the Democratic legislature in Washington State passed a domestic partner bill.

So, now you may be asking yourself what all of these accomplishments have to do with why the LGBT community should be supporting John Edwards for President. The answer is simple: if we want to continue to see this kind of progress in the states and to see the bills that we all work so hard to pass (and the anti-gay bills we all work so hard to kill), we need to retain the majorities Democrats hold in statehouses and build new ones. And there is only one candidate with a 50-state plan who can ensure that we capitalize on the opportunities have across the nation. That candidate is John Edwards. I would encourage you to read the sign-on letter our LGBT steering committee released 2 weeks ago and we would welcome your participation in the campaign.

[EDITOR'S NOTE:] This entry has been updated at the request of the author to include hyperlinks and remove one introductory paragraph not necessary to the post.

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Edwards advocates second-class status for gay and lesbian relationships, and even worse, hides behind religion in order to justify it. Frankly, I think we've had more than enough of that coming from the White House over the last seven years. Personally, I think we all deserve better.

Newsflash, Rebecca: All of the leading Democratic candidates oppose marriage equality for same-sex couples on basis of religion. The Democratic party has become a a gathering ground for spineless, insidious, wealthy politicians that will not stand for the previously held position by the party in the issue of separation between church and state.

The problem with Edwards is that he does not have a chance in hell of getting the GE pick, so it's pointless to rant about how well he could serve the LGBT community.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 18, 2007 4:56 AM

I've been disappointed by Edwards since he and his campaign caved in to Catholic League bigot William Donohue earlier this year when Donohue and his fanatical wing-nuts went after Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte. (More here.) Edwards' conduct then was beyond spineless.

Regarding Lucrece's comment, with which I agree, the MSM designated Clinton the nominee even before the campaign kicked off. Since then, all coverage has been so skewed that many Americans know nothing about candidates like Richardson and Kucinich. They don't even really know about Clinton! For example, that she is the recipient of the most campaign contributions from the so-called "defense industry" of any candidate this year, Republican or Democrat.

I admire the activists, like Stern, who continue to fight against the tide, but with such biased media coverage there is no real race.

Thanks for the post, Eric. But, like Brynn, I too have a problem with how Melissa McEwan and Amanda Marcotte were treated by the Edwards campaign. I know Melissa personally and all the hell she went through over that. I helped her deal with some of the aftermath too. And Edwards left her out to dry in my opinion. If he can't stand up to Bill Donahue how in the hell is he going to stand up to Osama bin Laden?

To say that Edwards "forced the other candidates to re-focus on" education & healthcare is just inaccurate.

Senator Clinton promoted universal healthcare long before anyone in the Democratic party dared to utter the words. (And, in 2004, Carol Moseley Braun was a huge proponent of the idea . . . while John Edwards was not.) Kucinich, too, endorsed universal healthcare in 2004.

Edwards is, at least, 3 years behind them on the idea.

And on education, it can hardly be said that Edwards has spent anywhere near the amount of time that Clinton has, during the totality of her public life, in advocating for education and children's issues.

If that were true, surely Edwards would have gotten the endorsement of the American Federation of Teachers. But he did not; Clinton did.

And while it's true that Edwards (like Clinton) is good on most LGBT issues, it is patently unfair to say that Clinton would be less LGBT-friendly because of her husband, and Edwards would be more so because of his wife.

In the end, we should look at what the candidates say, and not what their spouses say or have done. In fact, I'd say it's pretty telling that Senator Clinton has been such a vociforous critic of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- a law put into place by her husband that she is now anxious to tear down.

Edwards would do a fine job as president, I'm sure. But right now, our country needs someone who has the breadth and depth of experience that the presidency requires. And, as the candidate who really DID make people re-evaluate ideas about education, healthcare and so much more, Hillary Clinton is clearly light-years ahead in the qualification department.

Steve--I am glad to see that someone of your caliber and integrity is part of the Hillary campaign. I have to admit, though, that I have been pretty disappointed with the lack of public visibility her LGBT steering committee has had on policy and grassroots organizing (as opposed simply to fundraisers). Our LGBT Steering Committee has had much greater visibility and--when I talk to my friends on the Hillary and Obama campaign--there is no doubt in my mind that we are a much more significant and integrated part of the campaign than they are with their respective candidates.

On the issues, I think most pundits agree that--even if they do not believe Edwards is a viable candidate--that Hillary and Obama would not be talking about social issues in the significant way have been during the debates and on the stump if Edwards was not in the race. Hillary certainly deserves credit for being a pioneer on universal health care during her husband's first-term, but I think everyone will agree that Edwards was the first of the gate with real plans and policies on health care, a living wage and improving access to education.

This focus has led Edwards to gain the endorsements of the local chapters of the largest and most powerful union in the nation--SEIU. I can tell you from my own experience as a Regional Field Director in Iowa that there is no better ally in organizing on caucus day than SEIU and its members.

I still have not seen a response from the Clinton campaign on the very real and legitimate concerns we as a community have about Bill Clinton trying to sell us out during the 2004 Presidential Campaign. We know that he will play a very significant role in a Hillary Administration--just in the same he is during her campaign. Why should we believe that as Hillary's top political advisor that he will not sell our community out again? I am just not convinced.


There are differences, and not all that subtle between Bill Richardson and the other candidates including Edwards when irt comes to gay marriage.

Governor Richardson's position too often goes unnoticed by the press and other GLBT's. And, unlike Edwards, it has nothing to do with religion (the Governor is one candidate who recognizes the obvious: that marriage is governed by civil law). Or, unlike most of the other candidates, including Edwards, some political sales job like "I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman".

Simply stated, Governor Richardson is honest on this issue. He consistently says the problem with gay marriage becoming a reality is that the country just isn't quite there yet in 2007, politically, on this issue . He says that this is an example of the kind of issue that takes real leadership to help the country "get it" and (with a little patience by some of us wishing it could happen yesterday) a true leader can bring the nation around to understand its' fairness. He is not afraid to be bold and use the "bully pulpit" and has certainly proven himself, as Governor, to be that type of leader.

If you don't believe it, check out his record in his first session of the legislature as Governor in 2003: He demanded the legislature include gender identity as well as sexual orientation in his state versions of ENDA and Hate Crimes, fought for it and the signed it into law, even while many of his own Democrats in the legislature argued against including gender identity. On the very day each law became effective, the Governor issued an Executive Order giving health benefits to all state employees.

Now I believe that's a real record and his arguments make a real difference.

Bill Jacobs, Richardson for President Nevada Director of GLBT Outreach.