The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Voting For Ourselves

Now that the Iowa caucuses are over, I’ve noticed posts on several of the blogs on my regular reading list with titles blaring “So-and-So for President” or “Why I’m Supporting Such-and-Such,” followed by reasons why candidate This-and-That deserves even more support. I guess it’s to be expected, now that the presidential campaign has begun in earnest.

However, I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon, for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve already declared who I’m supporting in the primaries. And, second, I already know my candidate isn’t going to get the nomination, because he doesn’t even have the support of progressives who hold the same positions he does.

I know, because a few weeks ago I sat around with some other progressives, talking about the election, the issues, and the candidates. Once we went through all the issues, someone asked the question that was hanging in the air, or at least it was in my mind. “So if he’s right on all of the issues, why isn’t Kucinich our guy?” The question got the typical response, but it left another question looming in my mind. If we aren’t voting for what we want, what are we voting for? More to the point, who are we voting for?


The reason I’m even thinking about this is because when I initially read that my candidate asked his supporters to back Obama if he didn’t make the cut-off in Iowa, I was worried that perhaps he might not last out the primary season. (Whether, or how much, that contributed to Obama’s historic Iowa Victory, I can only guess.) And that’s because the primaries are the only time I can actually vote for what I want, instead of settling for what I can get.

As gay man with a partner and a family, that comes in to very sharp focus. But as I look around I can’t help wondering why so few of us are doing he same, and why. Far be it from me to tell anyone else how to vote or who to vote for, but when buckets of gay dollars and hordes of gay volunteers touch down in Iowa, and a major gay organization appears to be deploying resources in New Hampshire, for a candidate who can’t even divorce herself from DOMA (and who may be “the least supportive” of the Democratic candidates [Via Queerty.]), I find myself wondering if the Republicans aren’t the only geniuses at persuading people to vote against their own interests.

Two major candidates have at least come out in favor of a full repeal of DOMA. That’s not support for marriage equality, but it’s a step towards removing a significant barrier to marriage equality. How, then, do we support a candidate who would leave most of that barrier in place, given the problems that “leaving it to the states” creates for our families?

The intro to Kucinich’s Advocate interview pretty much sums it up.

Let’s review: Of the seven Democratic contenders, only former Alaska senator Mike Gravel and Kucinich support gay marriage. The rest are content with federally recognized civil unions or domestic partnerships. On other important gay issues, Kucinich, like his competitors, supports a trans-inclusive employment nondiscrimination act, a federal hate-crimes law covering sexual orientation and gender identity, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” access to survivor benefits, equal tax treatment for same-sex couples, unfettered gay adoption, and funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.

But let’s say you’re like the 79% of gays in the Hunter poll who don’t consider gay rights the most important issue affecting your vote. In that case it might be important to note that Kucinich is the only Democratic candidate to oppose the Iraq war from the outset, when it was political suicide to do so. He supports not-for-profit universal health care, withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreeement and World Trade Organization until all countries agree to the same environmental and human rights standards, and raising the minimum wage. He’s pro-choice and pro–medical marijuana, and he introduced impeachment proceedings against Vice President Dick Cheney.

In short, he’s the candidate we’ve been asking for. So why aren’t you voting for Dennis Kucinich?

Kucinich himself provides the answers, in his responses to the interview questions. But what stood out most to me were the consequences of not voting for what we want when we have the rare chance to do so, and thus essentially vote against ourselves instead of for ourselves.

Playing it safe means forgoing marriage equality. That’s accommodating a system that’s ready to deny people fundamental human rights. To me, the minute you stop fighting for your rights is the minute you start losing your rights. That’s what’s happening in America today. The wiretapping, the eavesdropping, the government going into people’s health records and financial records. We’ve stopped fighting for our rights. The peace movement has basically given up.

…I think there’s a winner’s psychology, which the mass media propels, that promotes a false consensus. And actually it often disenfranchises people, because people keep voting against their own interests.

The one great gift the LGBT community has given to the world is personal authenticity, integrity, and the courage to be who you are in an open and uncompromised way. There’s real power there. You’re going to give that up to vote for someone because they might win and they don’t stand for marriage equality? To me, that’s antithetical to the entire movement and counterproductive to the point of being worrisome.

This is the one community that should be strong enough. If you make concessions on the issue of marriage equality, the possibility of it happening is going to diminish. The reason any gains have been made is because people were willing to go out on a limb. And you know what? That’s where the fruit is — out on the limb.

It’s the first sentence that keeps repeating in my mind. Backing down on equality, or putting it on the back burner is essentially making concessions to prejudice and discrimination, if only by allowing it to go on without a strong challenge. In that sense, there’s barely a dime’s worth of difference between an incrementalist and an accommodationist.

I understand the “win what we can win now” approach, because it’s nothing new. It’s the same gradualism that’s a part of ever civil rights debate. And, as in every other civil rights debate, the implication of gradualism is that some people will have to continue to endure injustice without remedy. 

Its one thing to be an incrementalist and at least be honest about that last sentence. It’s quite another to declare that it is the right thing to do to ask others to continue to suffer injustice without remedy is the right thing to do, that they ought to be glad to do it, and that they are wrong for objecting to it.

…And for movements that are supposed to be about progress and equality, it’s a matter of of a certain degree of concession to the opposite of both.

…Power concedes nothing without demand, indeed. But what do we concede?

What do we conceded? And why? We all know that, come the general election, there will be no major candidate who fully supports our equality, or at least who has the courage to do so publicly. But when we have a candidate who does support equality, we stay away in droves.

Maybe there are other reasons, on other issues,  many of us are supporting other candidates who are less-than-supportive of full equality (at least in public), but looking at where things are headed, I’m reminded of a quote that echoes the question in my mind. Right now, it seems like an  appropriate question for gay voters and the candidates many of us are supporting.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

Yet another quote also seems appropriate.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Only slightly more bewildering is the willingness to accept lukewarm acceptance, with enthusiasm and even gratitude.

Not to mention voting for it.

5 Comments

  1. Though I understand this sentiment and support it to a degree, some thoughts…

    The _most_ a president can do in the arena of marriage equality is to support, encourage and sign a bill to repeal all of DOMA (Obama supports that). S/He can’t force states to allow gay marriage and our marriage equality. It _will_ have to be up to the states.

    As much as I agree with Kucinich on the issues (I took the same test you did and he was the highest at 80%, Obama was 71% and Kucinich was closest with my views on gay rights), my calculation of who to vote for _needs_ to include if I believe the candidate will make a good president and leader. Otherwise, if my good friend who I agree with 99% of the time runs I should vote for him even though he’s a HORRIBLE manager and leader. I just don’t think, in my reading of the evidence, that Kucinich will make a great leader and president.

    So, in my self-interest I need a candidate who will do the things s/he _can_ do as president in the area of marriage equality and step out of the way (repeal DOMA) and in the area of the military (DADT) and in the area of employment and housing (supporting a fully inclusive ENDA and signing it). In those areas, it seems Obama supports the same things I do. I don’t need him to come out and support full marriage equality, because even if he did, it wouldn’t change a lot considering what he could do. His position on issues he can do something about when it comes to my family are right on the nose.

    That’s why I’m not support Kucinich and supporting Obama.

  2. Trey, I seriously disagree with you on that gay marriage (a.k.a. marriage equality) is up to the states. Think about this — if that were true for interracial heterosexual marriages — can you imagine the state of chaos it leads for interracial couples? For that matter, why leave it up to the states? Why not leave it up to each individual county or city? Suppose each city can decide, whether they recognize interracial marriage. Can you imagine, crossing the city limits would make a interracial marriage invalid?

    I realize that I’m taking things into the extreme here, but for marriage equality to function properly at all, it *MUST* be recognized at the federal level, and not be left up to the states.

    As far as the difference between what a candidate can do vs. what he/she advocates, I disagree with you on that as well. While for many issues, there is little an elected President can really do. However, it sets a tone about the state of the country and what the country stands for. Religion seem to be a very big issue in this election, but a President’s religious belief is not really a criteria for how well he/she can perform his/her duties. However, it sets the tone for the country (a bad one, I’d argue) as a predominantly Christian value.

    On the other hand, I have another dimension of question as far as voting for who we want. Here in California, Mr. Terminator was voted in as Governor. During his candidacy, he was very supportive of marriage equality — and had stated he supported it. But then he did an about face after the election. Now, he consistently vetoed several bills passed by California legislators legalizing gay marriage. I know this is kind of off topic a bit, but nonetheless, I’d say, beware of newcomers with little voting records a lots of promises.

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  4. Lucas,

    The point I’m making is that in reality, marriage IS up to the states. In the U.S. states create, manage and officiate marriage laws. It’s been that way for 200 years and I don’t see that changing.

    Whether other states recognize those marriage laws and whether the Federal government recognizes those state marriage laws is of course a federal issue.

    And thats my point. THe president and congress can NOT force a state to change it’s marriage laws to include full equality. It’s not constitutional. The Supreme court could (by ruling the inequality unconstitutional), but the president nor the congress can.

    WHat the president and congress CAN do is repeal all of DOMA thus allowing the federal government to recognize marriage equality passed in a state (Mass so far) and to open the possibility that other states will have to recognize Mass marriage laws. The president could also appoint Supreme Court justices that are likely to require that recognition across state lines (thus making marriage equality national by default), ala “Loving v. Virginia” that did that with interracial marriage laws.

    ANd Obama has said he’d do all that, and that is all he or congress could do.

    Also, Obama’s religion (UCC) recognizes marriage equality and I think the tone he’d set is pretty open to that. His voting record when it comes to gay rights is pretty solidly pro-gay.

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