Saturday, May 16, 2009

Party Poopers

More Dems must get on board if we are to achieve progress.

By Steve Charing

It’s not that often in recent history that the Democratic Party would have so much dominance at both the Federal and state levels. And they achieved that status mainly by default.

The Republicans of late have been in a free-fall with no signs of reversal in the near future. The incompetence and hard-line dogma of the Bush-Cheney years have exacerbated the dwindling popularity of the GOP especially since the time they chose to invade Iraq without any provocation.

Then the economy faltered big time and the GOP response was the knee-jerk demand for tax cuts—their panacea for all of our economic ills. Throw into the mix the religious conservatives’ requirement imposed on Republican elected officials that they maintain rigid opposition to choice and same-sex marriage despite the public’s evolving mood on these.

Only a quarter of Americans now identify as Republicans, and that number is about to get worse as more African-Americans, Latinos and younger people become eligible to vote and replace the older, more conservative voters down the road. The GOP will continue to be essentially a white, Southern, evangelical party.

Will this shift from a strong two-party system help us to achieve LGBT rights? On the surface one would think it could. Democrats have always been more sensitive to our issues and the last bastion of moderate Republicans tends to be supportive. But we have problems within the Democratic Party, and that’s problems with a “P” and that stands for “Pastor.”

To be sure, there are conservative Democrats such as Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller who oppose civil unions, much less same-sex marriage, and skittish Democrats like Governor Martin O’Malley. But the key to achieve partner recognition and legal protections for transgendered individuals resides at the pulpits of African-American ministers who are overwhelmingly Democrats.

A number of Democratic African-American lawmakers are either ministers themselves or have strong ties to black preachers. Virtually every poll indicates that African-Americans oppose same-sex marriage at a significantly higher rate than the rest of the population. They tend to be religious and socially conservative, and their ministers denounce homosexuality from the pulpits using the very same Bible that at one time was used to justify slavery and racial segregation.

This is not helpful. Senator Anthony C. Muse (D-Prince George’s) and a pastor in his own right, has been seen by lgbt activists as an impediment to pushing the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act out of the Judicial Proceedings Committee in addition to his apparent opposition to transgender protections.

Delegate Emmett C. Burns (D-10, Baltimore County) [pictured], also a pastor, has been a vocal, unapologetic opponent of lgbt rights. He doesn’t want to see gays “sashay” to the alter. Accordingly, he earned a fat 0 out of 100 from Equality Maryland’s legislative LGBT-rights scoring system.

Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr., a Democrat, whose district 30 includes such LGBT-populous areas as Hampden, Remington, Mount Vernon and Charles Village incredibly said that allowing civil marriage for gays and lesbians will open the floodgates to the state having to recognize polygamy. After some letters and phone calls from angry LGBT constituents and allies, he apologized.

Nonetheless, during the 2009 General Assembly, Del. Conaway slowed up passage of the inheritance tax bill benefiting same-sex couples by introducing an amendment—later defeated—that would have defined domestic partner as “an individual of the opposite sex with whom another individual has a child in common.”

Even in Washington, D.C., former mayor Marion Barry, who was one of the early gay rights supporters, did an about face by voting against a bill in the City Council that would recognize the marriages of same-sex couples. “All hell is going to break loose,” Barry predicted. “We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this.”

Despite Barry’s pronouncement, this is not to suggest that Democrats opposing our rights are all African-Americans or that all blacks are against us. Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery), for example, was the chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session that bottled up the Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill by not allowing an up and down vote in committee where it died.

On the other hand, African-American Senator Nathaniel J. McFadden (D-District 45 in Northeast Baltimore) was once an opponent of gay rights when he was a member of Baltimore’s City Council. Lately, he had stated that the issue of same-sex marriage should not be tied directly to the religious aspects of marriage. Raised as a Southern Baptist, Sen. McFadden explained his position "evolved" and had heard the same arguments before in places where blacks could not marry whites. "Discrimination in any form is unacceptable," he said.

Clearly we must reach out to our opponents to achieve success. And many of them are Democrats. Governor O’Malley and others must display the courage to help lead the fight. African-American preachers need to stop spewing anti-gay venom from the pulpits, recognizing that discrimination at any level is wrong. And Republicans should re-think their intransigent positions on LGBT issues before their party falls off the cliff.

For more discussion about this issue, listen to this NPR program.

1 comment:

josh sullivan said...

Great thoughts Steve. There is also a great audio story on NPR on this topic, but a more national level piece.