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Dragging the Old Nag to the Racetrack, Again

Once again, gay rights have been thrust into the center of a political campaign. Will it be a winning strategy again?

George W. Bush, 2000: "I’m not for gay marriage. I think marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. I appreciated the way the (Clinton) administration signed the Defense of Marriage Act."

George W. Bush, 2004: "The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith…Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society."

George W. Bush, 2006: "This national question (of same-sex marriage) requires a national solution. And on an issue of such profound importance, that solution should come not from the courts but from the people of the United States."

John McCain, 2008: "I think that we’ve proven that both parents are important in the success of a family so, no, I don’t believe in gay adoption.”

There is a horse that races only once every two years. "Gaybait" is a sure-fired crowd pleaser, depending on the crowd with which one runs. She draws millions to the track every time she races.

It's a presidential election year here in the United States, so that can only mean one thing: time for our bi-annual trip to the "queers are among" racetrack. President Bush has been the jockey of Gaybait for the last few years, looking at poll numbers and deciding when best to yank the old horse out of retirement to run one more successful race.

Here's how it works: Bush's advisors notice that more than a couple of people are planning to vote for Democrats in the coming election, so Bush launches a new series of speeches designed to whip little old Christian ladies and dour televangelists into a frenzy with tales of how Bill and Suzy Milktoast might find their portrait on the wedding pages next to Rick and David Pervert. The Perverts will move into your neighborhood, immediately putting an irreparable strain on every heterosexual union for miles and advancing the decline of civilization as we know it. Said old ladies and televangelists spread the message, and hordes of frightened conservatives show up at the polls in droves, assuring a Republican victory.

It has been a strategy that has been largely successful, as Gay Marriage has become a major issue in three of the last four national elections (2002 being the exception, when America was focused solely on post 9/11 security). Given Bush's insistence that this issue is of prime importance alongside national security, the economy, and healthcare, it would be only natural to assume that the Bush Administration has been completely unfriendly to the LGBT movement. Surprisingly, though, that hasn't necessarily been the case.

In fact, Bush has appointed numerous openly gay individuals to high-level positions, and has signed into law several pieces of legislation extending health and death benefits to partners of federal and D.C. employees. He has enforced the Clinton ban on discrimination in the federal workplace based on sexual orientation, and issued an executive order that "unmarried partners" of overseas federal workers be given that same status as married partners. Most importantly, he has never thrown the weight of his office behind proposed Constitutional amendments defining marriage as between a man and woman, allowing several pieces of legislation calling for such an amendment to die in the House or Senate without comment.

This is not to imply that Bush has been the gay community's best friend, since he has voiced opposition to gay marriage, gay adoption, gays in the Boy Scouts, and gay inclusion in hate crime legislation. Nevertheless, he has never worked fervently on any of these issues, instead arguing that they are states' issues. So why would he choose to make gay marriage such a central issue come election time?

Most likely because Republican strategists, led by Karl Rove, insured that it became a central issue and worked tirelessly to get anti-gay marriage initiatives on as many state ballots as possible to help motivate conservatives to get to the polls. Further, various local campaigns latched onto the issue, reflecting the arguments coming from the party leaders.

Take, for instance, Republican Representative Mike Sodrel of Indiana, who scored "zero" on the Human Rights Campaign report card in 2006. First-termer Sodrel was up for re-election in that year, running against the man he had unseated. When it became clear that the race would be tight, Sodrel followed the President's lead, attacking his opponent for voting against a Constitutional marriage amendment (although, in fairness, his opponent, Baron Hill, raised the issue of gay marriage first).

Sodrel even hosted President Bush at a rally where Bush informed Sodrel supporters that "Activist judges try to define America by court order … Just this week in New Jersey, another activist court (the New Jersey Supreme Court) issued a ruling that raises doubt about the institution of marriage. We believe marriage is between a man and a woman." ("Bush on Late Campaign Blitz" World Politics News.com, 10 March 2006).

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Ed Patru reinforced Bush and Sodrel's position: "Baron Hill opposes the gay marriage ban that Mike Sodrel co-sponsored, and he's against protecting marriage from attacks by homosexual activists. It's just another reason Baron Hill will remain a former Member of Congress." ("GOP Resorts to Gay Bashing to Save Sodrel" Advance Indianna Blogspot.com, 7 September 2006) Patru was wrong, however, and voters returned Hill to Congress, voicing greater concern over his position on the war in Iraq than his position on gay marriage. (Sodrel is running for his old seat again this year, but his website includes no mention of the gay marriage issue.)

Sodrel is just one of many candidates who have chosen to play up gay-related issues in recent elections, and like most such candidates, his position has not been gay-friendly. Yet American society is becoming somewhat more open to the legal needs of GLBT persons, according to a June Newsweek poll which showed that while just 30 percent of Americans support gay marriage alone, only 29 percent oppose any legal recognition of gay unions, with 57 percent in favor of either gay marriage or civil unions. (Polling Report.com)

More importantly, a June Time poll reported that 72 percent of voters would still consider voting for a presidential candidate who held an opposing viewpoint on gay marriage. (ibid) With record gas prices, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, rising unemployment and housing foreclosures, a weakening infrastructure, and concerns about national security -- all issues that have an immediate and potentially profound impact on the lives of Americans -- voters have a host of important issues and positions to consider in this election. It seems "Gaybait" won't be winning any races this year.

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