2008 = Life or Death for Gays
(HRC's NH field organizer, Heather Gibson, on the left, and Elizabeth Birch, former leader of HRC, on the right.)
"[Former HRC president Elizabeth] Birch explained her advocacy for Clinton as a 'life and death' issue."'At this moment of history for us it’s life and death. For other people it’s a wonderful privilege but for us it’s literally our lives,' said Birch, who points to the need for LGBT people to effectively care for their partners and children, the ongoing scourge of HIV/AIDS among gay men and the need for more research into the unique health issues that face lesbians."And there are still no protections for LGBT people at the federal level, Birch pointed out."Then somewhat ironically, Birch, whose HRC tenure spanned the Bill Clinton years, added, that, 'You’ll hear Clinton people try to say, ’Oh, we made such advances.’ We made no advances. We got left with ’Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and the Defense of Marriage Act."So were there reasons for that? Yes. However, there’s cleanup to do now and we have to move forward and get laws in place."
Michael,Liz Birch certainly exaggerates.We made important advances under Clinton.We got for the first time executive orders protecting executive branch employees from sexual orientation discrimination.We got a total revamping of the security clearance process that ended the "special procedures" under which gay people were frequently delayed or denied on security clearances, a real problem for people in technology occupations working for government contractors.We got the first openly gay federal judge, the first openly gay ambassador, the first openly gay people occupying positions requiring Senate confirmation (like Roberta Achtenberg), the first openly gay people in senior White House staff positions.We got a major advance on asylum policy when Janet Reno adopted as official precedent a decision that gays are a "distinct social group" for purposes of analyzing eligibility for political asylum in the US for people from oppressive countries.And we got the first president who did not spout reflexively anti-gay positions from the White House on every issue.What we didn't get, unfortunately, was good pro-gay legislation, and the fault was largely because the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress for 6 out of the 8 years of the Clinton Administration.I agree that DADT on the military was a disaster, and that the Defense of Marriage Act represented shameless political calculation by Clinton in his 1996 re-election campaign.He calculated, probably correctly, that the only way to take same-sex marriage off the table as a campaign issue (and to avoid a federal constitutional amendment writing a ban on same-sex marriage into the constitution) was to agree to DOMA, which was originally proposed, I believe, by Bob Dole.We need to remember that DOMA was passed by a Congress controlled by the Republican Party, not the Democrats (although it is surely true that Democrats, if united against it, could have filibustered it in the Senate).We need to think contextually about this and about DADT. I fault Clinton for failing to provide the leadership he should have provided back in 1993 when the military issue exploded. The best explanation is that he was confronted by leading Democrats, especially in the Senate, who told him that letting gays serve openly would not fly politically in Congress.Anyone who says we got NOTHING from the Clinton years and were set backwards is oversimplifying and misrepresenting the state of affairs. It is a mixed picture overall, and we made real progress, mainly on fronts that could be controlled solely by the executive branch due to the lack of control by Democrats of the legislative branch.We also, importantly, got our first major Supreme Court victory, Romer v. Evans, which was at least party attributable to Clinton's two Supreme Court appointments, Breyer and Ginsburg, both of whom have been pretty stalwart in supporting gay rights on the Court. (They both voted our way in Lawrence v. Texas, and they both dissented in the Boy Scouts case.) Indeed, all of GW Bush's Supreme Court appointees are firm opponents of gay rights.