Perhaps the easiest thing about being a gay conservative is that we expect less from our elected leaders than do our left-of-center counterparts. Republican politicians don’t promise us the moon and stars in their campaigns, so we’re not disappointed when they don’t bestow such lofty gifts on our community once elected.
For gay Democrats, however, it’s a different story. They are repeatedly disappointed when their politicians do not follow through on the campaign pledges they make to our community.
In 1992, then-Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton promised to repeal the ban on gays in the military, but just a year later, he backpedaled on that promise. After he clumsily tried to act on that promise in the first few days of his administration, that Democrat realized he might suffer politically should he sign an executive order repealing the ban. At the time, the president’s signature was all that was required to allow gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
Facing a firestorm of opposition from the military and Congress, Clinton relented and signed a supposed compromise policy, the legislation which became known as Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT). Gays could now serve, provided they didn’t self-identify as gay. Now the ban on open service is codified, requiring an act of Congress to be repealed.
This would not be the last time Clinton would sign legislation upsetting gay people who so enthusiastically backed him in 1992.
In the dead of night on September 20, 1996, after receiving the endorsement of the left-leaning gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the Democrat signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), allowing one state to bar recognition of same-sex marriages performed in a different state while defining marriage, for the purposes of federal law, as the union of one man and one woman. Although its then-leaders denounced the action, HRC did not rescind its endorsement of the then-Democratic incumbent.
Perhaps with that bit of history in mind, the current Democratic President Barack Obama thought that by currying favor with this bastion of the gay Washington, D.C., establishment, he could silence the growing chorus of criticism from erstwhile gay supporters upset by his failure to act on his campaign promises to repeal those two bills. This past Saturday, the president addressed HRC’s annual dinner in Washington where he reiterated his campaign pledges:
We are moving ahead on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. … We should not be punishing patriotic Americans who have stepped forward to serve this country. We should be celebrating their willingness to show such courage and selflessness on behalf of their fellow citizens, especially when we’re fighting two wars. … And I’ve called on Congress to repeal the so-called Defense of Marriage Act.
That may have earned him a standing ovation inside the auditorium, but it did not quiet the criticism outside. Indeed, if anything, the speech only served to increase its volume. Left-of-center lesbian blogger Pam Spaulding took umbrage at the president’s failure to offer a timeline for repeal:
The low expectations I had regarding LGBT policy were unfortunately met on that account. If you’re an activist or citizen looking for timelines, actions, use of the bully pulpit, ANYTHING that would indicate to the community that our president was serious about moving on the laundry list of LGBT issues any time soon, you would call it a fail.
Others found different reasons to call the speech “a fail.” Left-wing gay bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage said it sounded more like a campaign speech than a presidential address, with the latter offering, “Sorry, folks, nothing new to see here. Pledges, promises, excuses. Lip service.” They were not alone. The New York Times reported that one reader of the Bilerico Project quipped in a comment to that gay blog, “I could have watched one of his old campaign speeches and heard the same thing.”
John Aravosis of Americablog was less restrained in his reaction to the speech:
What did President Obama say new tonight? Absolutely nothing. … It is criminal that any gay rights organization would invite an embattled president to their dinner, giving him political cover for repeated broken promises and slaps in the face to our community (like the DOMA incest brief), and then get absolutely nothing in return. HRC’s actions only feed the suspicions of critics who say that the organization is more interested in fundraisers than in advancing our rights.
All in all, the evening was a disappointment, but not unexpected. President Obama doesn’t do controversy, and we, my friends, are controversy. So, the bad blood between this administration and the gay community will remain, and continue to worsen.
By this measure, the incumbent Democrat is a lot like the last Democrat to sit in the White House: both seek to avoid controversy, particularly on gay issues. And yet, in seeking to avoid controversy in the general population, Obama has further stirred the pot in the gay community. Even some of his most zealous defenders on the gay left have refused to cut him any slack for his failure to move forward on repealing DADT and DOMA.
And these outraged voices on the gay left have a greater opportunity today to make public their views than did their counterparts in the Clinton era. Many of them blog, some for heavily trafficked sites. These bloggers have prevented the voices of the establishment gay organizations from dominating the discourse (as they had in years past). When HRC’s president Joe Solmonese made excuses for the president’ s inaction, these bloggers were quick to take him to task.
Due in large part to the integrity of these gay left bloggers, a “schism,” as Spaulding puts it, has opened up between “Gay Inc. [and] the grassroots”. The blogosphere, in short, has changed everything. Gay Inc. (to use Spaulding’s epithet for the establishment gay organizations) no longer reigns supreme as the public voice of the gay community.
It has been supplemented by voices less submissive to the dictates of the Democratic Party. Blogs have given disgruntled Democrats a larger megaphone with which to express their disappointment with a party whose leaders have long assumed that gay voters would remain in their camp even if they didn’t act on their campaign promises.
And Americans have become increasingly aware that the gay community does not speak with one voice. Nor does it march it lockstep to the tune of the Democratic Party.