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JUNE 3, 2005
Keep your eyes
on our 'allies'
Conservative groups never scream more loudly than
at their own allies when they waiver. But gay groups
offer political cover when our rights are compromised.
By CHRIS CRAIN
EORGE W BUSH, TOM
DeLay, Rick Santorum,
To hear our activists tell it,
these conservative Republicans
ought to be the focus of the gay
John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton,
John McCain, Howard Dean.
In fact, "liberal" Democrats and moderate Republicans like these ought to be the
main focus of the movement right now.
No amount of Chicken Little rhetoric and
frenetic fund-raising will convince the stalwarts of the right to moderate their views,
and the next opportunity to unseat them is
almost two years away Even then, how much
will we really gain with their successors?
Our so-called allies, who we cheerfully
toast at black-tie dinners and lavish with
our donations, could be reached and influenced right now with enough pressure
applied at the right places.
Instead, for years now, our activists have
given a free pass to anyone who will parrot
the right words of support for gay rights, and
offered them political cover when they compromise away our future for their present
THE RECENT BROUHAHA OVER THE
president's judicial nominations is a classic
example of how we facilitate the abuse of
our rights at our own expense.
It wasn't a mammoth showdown like the
votes last year to amend the U.S. Constitution
to ban gay marriage. It wasn't a test of political will like last year's presidential campaign, when Democrat John Kerry withered
when pressed on the issue of gay marriage.
But the fight over whether Democrats
could use the filibuster to block some of
President Bush's judicial appointments was
the first big test of 2005 for the gay rights
movement and its allies. Unfortunately, pretty
much everyone failed.
Senate Democrats once again sacrificed
gay rights for the greater good of their own
political expedience, and our lobbying
organizations nodded meekly in understanding, not managing a peep of criticism.
These same Democrats, and their like-
minded predecessors, have talked the talk
but never walked the walked for years, failing even to pass employment non-discrimination when their party controlled both
houses of Congress and the presidency.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE FILIBUSTER
battle were arcane enough to excite only the
most ardent political junkie: Senate
Democrats had used the filibuster to block 10
of the 45 judges nominated by President Bush
to serve on the nation's federal appeals courts,
just one step below the US. Supreme Court,
Frustrated that the minority party was
thwarting the president and his fellow
Republicans in the Senate majority, GOP leaders planned to invoke a "nuclear option," cutting off the filibuster with 51 votes, rather
than the 60 required by Senate rules.
Of the 10 judges blocked by the
Democrats, the one judge with the clearest
anti-gay record is William Pryor, the former
Alabama attorney general. While in that position, he urged the Supreme Court not to strike
down sodomy laws in Lawrence vs. Texas.
Pryor argued that constitutional protection for
consensual sex between gay people would
inevitably lead to similar protections for incest
necrophilia, pedophilia and prostitution.
President Bush managed an end-run
around the Democrats' filibuster of Pryor
and last year used a "recess appointment"
to put Pryor temporarily on the 11th Circuit
Appeals Court in Atlanta. The judge from
Alabama quickly returned the favor, casting
the critical deciding vote upholding
Florida's ban on adoption by gays.
But Pryor's "recess appointment" will
expire soon if he does not receive official
blessing from the U.S. Senate, so when the
president re-nominated him this year, gay
rights groups quickly condemned the move.
Then the Gang of 14, a group of seven senators from each party, cobbled together a
grand compromise: The Democrats agreed to
abandon the filibuster on three of the president's worst nominees, including Pryor. In
exchange, the Republicans agreed only to
delay for now, a vote on the "nuclear option."
Most progressive civil rights groups criticized the "compromise" because it virtually guaranteed the confirmation of three
arch-conservative judges in exchange for little. A vote will still come on the nuclear
option, only now it's more likely to involve
a nomination to the Supreme Court, when
the stakes are infinitely higher.
"We are very disappointed with the
decision to move these extremist nominees one step closer to confirmation," said
Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for
Justice, in a reaction typical of liberal
"Is there anybody on our side who is
happy?" she asked rhetorically
NAN ARON, MEET JOE SOLMONESE,
THE newly installed director of the Human
Rights Campaign, lead pacifist organization
in the patsy movement for gay civil rights.
He's plenty happy with the "compromise."
In language more befitting a judicial pronouncement than an activist organization,
HRC and Solmonese issued a statement "lauding" a compromise that "protects our nation."
It certainly didn't protect gay
Americans from William Pryor, and how is
delaying an inevitable vote on the "nuclear
option" any sort of victory? Will the odds
be any better for a filibuster when there is
even more at stake?
These so-called allies have never protected us at crunch time. They voted for "Don't
Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of
Marriage Act. One of them, Bill Clinton,
even signed that nefarious twosome into law.
They oppose marriage equality, and
many won't even go on record about civil
unions. They have thus far voted against
the president's constitutional amendment
banning gay marriage, but only on frighten-
ingly tenuous, legalistic grounds.
Our national gay rights groups do not
even keep track of how many members of
Congress actually back marriage equality
Only two non-gay members, at least judging
by the debate on the president's marriage
In the meantime, the National Gay &
Lesbian Task Force, which used to be counted on as our most aggressive gay rights
lobby, issued a navel-gazing statement mumbling something about a "deep foreboding"
over the compromise. Perhaps they were
still counting the money raised last month
at their dinner starring Howard Dean, who
was awarded the Task Force Lifetime
Achievement Award despite his repeated
dismissals of marriage equality with a
wave of his hand.
It is not the job of a civil rights movement
to offer political cover at crunch time.
Conservative groups understand this and
never scream more loudly than at their own
allies when they waiver. Some liberal groups,
like Aran's have learned that critical lesson.
Unless and until our own activists can
summon the courage
to demand our equality, we surely can't
expect politicians to
lead the way.
Chris Crain is
il executive editor of
the Houston Voice
and can be reached at