Election 2004: This Time, the Stakes Are Real

Published in: July-August 2004 issue.


When George W. Bush did away with former President Clinton’s recognition of June as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, the White House stated that, “President Bush does not believe in politicizing people’s sexual orientation.” Yet no president in history has politicized sexual orientation more than Bush. Just recently, White House political director Karl Rove told a group of conservative activists that the gay marriage issue was helping Bush, because polls are starting to shift in his direction, with more people opposed to same-sex unions.

As governor of Texas, Bush fought a legislative effort allowing gays to adopt children, killed a hate-crimes bill because it included sexual orientation, and stated his support for keeping in place Texas’ law against same-sex sodomy (which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year) because it was “symbolically important.” Karen Hughes, then the spokeswoman for Governor Bush, said, “he doesn’t believe in granting legal rights based on sexual orientation.” But President Bush’s unqualified support for the Federal Marriage Amendment has shown him to be a man who very much believes in denying legal rights based on sexual orientation.

Enshrining in the Constitution discrimination against gay people would have a tremendous impact on the lives of every GLBT person in America. Boosted by President Bush’s support, there have been 91 bills in 37 states introduced to ban marriage and other rights for same-sex couples. Many of these state bills and amendments also nullify domestic partnership benefits currently in place, actually taking us backwards.

Ultimately, the fight for rights for same-sex couples will end up in the Supreme Court. Given that some of the sitting justices are elderly or in failing health, the man elected president in November 2004 will undoubtedly have at least one and probably more Supreme Court vacancies to fill over the next four years. George Bush has told the American people that he would nominate justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two most vehemently anti-gay justices on the Supreme Court. If Bush wins in November, it is unlikely that gay couples will receive any of the federal benefits of marriage for at least the next twenty years.

Karl Rove, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Dobson would all be delighted if we were to give Bush in 2004 the same one million gay votes he received in 2000. But in 2000, many people wanted to believe that Bush was truly the “compassionate conservative” he claimed to be. In this upcoming election, we now know this to be a lie.

In his March address via satellite to a group of evangelical Christians meeting in Colorado Springs, President Bush vowed to “defend the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage,” and said, “I support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman.”

In contrast, at a March campaign appearance in San Francisco, Senator John Kerry said he supported granting gay and lesbian couples in state-sanctioned partnerships exactly the same 1,049 federal rights provided to married heterosexuals, and would work to do so if elected president. And at an April fundraiser in Miami, Senator Kerry decried Bush’s constitutional amendment as divisive and wrong.

There has never been a presidential election where the gulf between the Democratic and Republican nominees on gay issues has been wider, when the stakes for our community have been higher, and when getting out the vote in November has been more important.


Marc Paige, based in Newton, Mass., writes on gay and AIDS issues.


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