Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Putting Principles Over Politics

We all know that the dogma of the Republican Party is to oppose LGBT rights at every turn. LGBT folks are despised so much by the GOP that the party is willing to forego its own long-held beliefs on states’ rights in favor of supporting a Federal Constitutional Amendment that would prohibit marriages between members of the same sex.

All you have to do is check on the voting of LGBT-specific bills and see which party lines up in lockstep opposing equality for LGBT Americans. In a recent example, we saw it in the voting for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” except for the courageous votes of 6 moderate Republicans—an endangered species.

Yes, moderate Republicans are indeed dwindling in numbers. The trend over the past few decades is that they are frequently vanquished in primaries by more socially conservative candidates on the right. Or they choose to not seek re-election and step down after completing their term. Some have lost to Democrats in blue states even thought their ideology may be similar.

And now with the explosion of right wing tea partiers on the scene (the phenomenon will not be enduring) challenging moderate or “not conservative enough” Republicans, the party has clearly shifted to the far right end of the spectrum on social issues, crowding out those moderates even further.

The GOP has devised a moniker for these moderates: RINO—Republicans In Name Only. There is no place in the Republicans’ so-called “big tent” for RINOs, and so they will vanish at some point, switch parties, or struggle to persevere.

But in Maryland, one Republican social moderate has taken a stand and put principles over politics. Former Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (Carroll, Howard) announced one week before the General Assembly was convened that he would introduce a bill that would grant all couples—gay and straight—civil unions. His objective was to ensure that all gay and lesbian citizens have the same rights afforded opposite sex couples.

Since the stated goal from this Republican—a leader no less—was to establish equality for gay and lesbian couples, it received widespread attention, and any discomfort among his shrinking caucus in the Maryland Senate was not made public, but you can be sure it was present. Exactly two weeks later, Kittleman stepped down from his post as Minority Leader, which he has held for two years, because he recognized his views on LGBT equality do not comport with those of his caucus.

“It is more important for me to stay true to my principles than it is for me to be the Minority Leader,” Kittleman said in a statement. He said he made his decision after meeting with the other 11 GOP senators in the 47-member Senate.

“It was apparent that the majority of the caucus members do not want a fiscal conservative who is also a social moderate as the leader of the caucus,” Kittleman said, according to a report in the Washington Post.

To be sure, marriage equality advocates winced at the notion of a civil union bill for several reasons, not the least of which it sets up a separate but not equal category that the rest of the country do not share and it would not provide the same protections that married couples have been granted. It would also offer an unsatisfactory alternative to the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act that was recently introduced which has been given a good chance for passage this year.

But Kittleman is grappling over whether or not he will be introducing his bill. “I have has not decided to file my civil union bill due to the communications I have had with you and others,” he told me. “I really just want to have equality for everyone and am trying to work the best way to do it.”

Allan Kittleman’s stand is courageous as well as commendable. He bucked his own party caucus on this issue and resigned from a post where he would have had more influence than any of the other GOP senators. This frees him to be who he is, who he is meant to be.

As a son of a civil rights champion, the late Senator Robert Kittleman, it is not surprising that Allan Kittleman would possess progressive leanings on social issues and be true to his principles. And he has walked the walk. Kittleman has attended several PFLAG meetings and events. He presented the winner of the 2010 PFLAG-Howard County Scholarship. He is a very special person.

Politics is interesting and at times ironic. You have the then Senate Republican Leader espousing equality for gays and lesbians. Yet the Democratic President of the Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller, opposes any form of same-sex partner recognition including civil unions.

Senator Allan Kittleman has demonstrated that for him principles are more important than politics. And that is a breath of fresh air in a political environment that is toxic.

He was right about the fact the rest of his caucus would be opposed to his moderate stance on LGBT equality. They proceeded to elect arguably the most virulently homophobic member of the caucus to replace Kittleman as Minority Leader, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs (Harford, Cecil).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What Lies Ahead for 2011?

Nobody can accurately forecast the weather a day in advance much less events throughout a year. So, for sure, I’m not going to look into a crystal ball and make bold predictions. As the great philosopher Casey Stengel once said, “Never make predictions, especially about the future.” His disciple Yogi Berra learned well from the master Stengel.

But we do have a sense of what MAY transpire in the coming year as it pertains to the LGBT community. On the national stage, several things are likely to occur. President Obama is going to take a page from the Bill Clinton playbook and move even more towards the center of the political spectrum during the second half of his term, thus irking his progressive base.

As you may recall, President Clinton’s Democratic Party was also “shellacked” during the midterm elections of 1994. To regain his footing and set up a successful 1996 re-election run, Clinton engaged in a process called “triangulation” whereby he adopted a point of view that was more widely associated with Republican dogma than with the Democrats. As an example, in the 1996 State of the Union Address, Clinton declared “the era of big government is over.” He also presided over welfare reform and balanced budgets—not the usual positions from Democrats.

This is what I expect from President Obama during 2011. With a House of Representatives firmly in control by Republicans and the Democratic margin in the Senate having been reduced, the Administration will not be seeking left-leaning initiatives during this term. The numbers in Congress are against him, the posturing by Republicans to gear up for 2012, and Obama’s intuitive desire to compromise sets up a likely “triangulation” scenario.

Therefore, you won’t see a major drive to pull ENDA—the Federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act—out of the scrap heap where it has languished for nearly four decades. And most certainly, you won’t see the push, at least by the President, to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, not until after 2012.

What we might see, however, is some backlash from the astounding come-from-behind effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the waning days of the 111th Congress. Such blowback has already been evident in the wake of the leak of Navy Captain Owen Honors’ inappropriate video aboard the USS Enterprise. The sore-losing homophobes are blaming the repeal of DADT as the reason that stern action was taken against what would have been a distinguished officer had he not lapsed into frat-boy gay-bashing and sexist antics.

On that subject, even though the video was recorded years ago, it was conduct unbecoming of an officer, a leader. If the homophobes who are seething on the blogosphere were so concerned about disciplinary action taken against Captain Honors, perhaps they should read the list of the extraordinary men and women—officers and enlisted personnel—who were discharged simply because of the people they loved.

Back home in Maryland, 2011 figures to be an interesting year. Ever since Attorney General Gansler’s opinion last February stating that Maryland should recognize the valid marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions as well as the legalization of those marriages in nearby D.C., momentum for state action has gained traction.

All the metrics seem to be in place for an historic breakthrough: new composition of the key committees in both houses reflect a pro-equality mindset; leaders of both houses appear to be amenable to getting the issue out to the floor for a debate and vote; the Governor pledged to sign a marriage equality bill if passed; and recent polls show that a majority of Marylanders, albeit a small majority, supports marriage for same-sex couples.

As the start of the 2011 General Assembly approached, all looked good for pro-equality advocates. But wait, not so fast. Minority Leader Senator Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard, Carroll) added a new wrinkle. He announced he will introduce a civil union bill for both gay and straight couples. His overriding intent, according to comments he made to me, is to ensure that same-sex couples are granted all the rights as heterosexual couples.

There are a number of flaws in his reasoning, especially his stated desire to get government out of marriage. “I personally do not believe that the government should be involved in marriage,” he told me. But it is from government that all the benefits, rights and responsibilities are conferred upon married couples. (At press time, he has not responded to my request for clarification on that point.)

And Sen. Kittleman rejects the term “civil marriage” believing that “marriage” can only be a religious concept, notwithstanding the fact that some 40 percent of Maryland couples are legally wed in county clerk’s offices and city halls without a minister, priest or rabbi to officiate.

While Sen. Kittleman’s proposed legislation is intended to offer an alternative to a pro-marriage equality bill, it is hard to say if it will fly. At a minimum, however, it will be a most unwelcome distraction for those trying to do the work to get a full marriage equality bill passed.

Should a marriage equality bill be passed and signed into law, the next battle will be dealing with a referendum that will surely be highly charged.

So this year could be filled with the same surprises and disappointments as any other year. But only a glance into a crystal ball will allow us to know in advance how it will all play out. Otherwise, one cannot make predictions, especially about the future.