Tuesday, April 11, 2006
by Wayne Besen
For the past eight years, the only place the GLBT community has flexed its muscle in Washington is Results Gym. With no serious presidential contender to carry the marriage banner in 2004 and few amigos on Capitol Hill, politicians who fancy themselves allies left us twisting in the wind as if we were piñatas.
As the right wing beat the stuffing out of our beleaguered families, our "friends" whispered from the sidelines, "don't take it personally, we still love you." And, of course, they do love us, which is the problem. We are adored like the terminally uncool, but loyal, buddy who unfailingly helps move our furniture or fixes our computers, but never asks us why we haven't invited him to swanky A-List parties.
To translate this politically: Gay and lesbian people are licking envelopes until we are ready to join NA for glue detox and throwing money at ungrateful politicians like it is an Olympic sport. And for our efforts we often get patronizing pols who tell us that we must subordinate our concerns for more important issues, as if there are actually more pressing matters than protecting our families.
Incredibly, last week a political hero emerged who finally handed us an engraved invitation to the penthouse party. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., shocked the political world when he announced his support for marriage equality.
"As I said at the Kenosha County listening session, gay and lesbian couples should be able to marry and have access to the same rights, privileges and benefits that straight couples currently enjoy. Denying people this basic American right is the kind of discrimination that has no place in our laws, especially in a progressive state like Wisconsin. The time has come to end this discrimination and the politics of divisiveness that has become part of this issue."
Feingold is not the first senator to endorse marriage rights, but he is the first legitimate potential presidential contender to do so. He has clearly taken a political risk, so, the big question is, will we stand by him, as we should?
The answer is not so cut-and-dried, with many of our leaders firmly enmeshed in the Democratic machine, which is clearly banking on a Hillary Rodham Clinton nomination. There is a palpable fear that anyone who crosses Clinton in the primaries might be frozen out of power if she wins the presidency. And, of course, this may be true, but our leaders must be reminded that what is best for the GLBT community comes first, before loyalty to any party or candidate.
If we show ourselves to be feckless and unable to rally support, it will be the last time in the foreseeable future that a legitimate presidential contender takes a risk to support our full inclusion in the American dream.
Quite frankly, if we let him down, we don't deserve further support. Feingold has laid on the train tracks, and we must be equally courageous by seizing control of the train and driving it on a new track. For if a powerful bloc of progressives and GLBT advocates join forces to put Feingold in a position to win the Democratic nomination, the world will take notice and backing marriage equality won't seem like political suicide to so many candidates.
Realistically, it will be an uphill battle for Feingold to win the nomination. But now might be a rare moment where the senator could pull off an upset. As a crusader for campaign finance reform in the age of Jack Abramoff, Feingold can offer himself as the candidate who can clean-up corruption in Washington. His motion to censure President Bush for illegally wiretapping Americans makes him appear almost prophetic, as new scandals seem to roil the Bush administration by the day.
Most important, Feingold appears reasonable and presidential on television. One can easily imagine him in the Oval Office with his finger near the button. He is attractive and articulate with a thoughtful array of public policies that are innovative, yet mainstream. His Midwestern sensibility also connects with voters in the crucial Great Lakes region.
Pooling our resources for Feingold in the primaries is a wise move that will allow our community to show its strength and send the message that we will not be taken for granted. And, it will not hurt the Democratic Party's chances against Republicans in the general election, since the community can rally behind the eventual nominee if Feingold comes up short.
A thoroughbred has announced his support before the presidential horserace has even begun. It is now our moral responsibility to ride him to the end of the rainbow, where we might just find a pot of gold in Feingold.
I have supported Senator Feingold from the beginning of my political awakening; as soon as I found out about him. He is a true progressive.
posted by DC Peaches, at