Evolving . . . Place by Place, Issue by Issue, Person by Person

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) (Image from the AP.)

Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) (Image from the AP.)

Today, Sen. Arlen Specter caused a bit of a kerfluffle with his announcement at The Huffington Post that he had changed his mind on the Defense of Marriage Act.  He wrote:

The time has come to repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Enacted 13 years ago when the idea of same sex marriage was struggling for acceptance, the Act is a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture.

He went on to express support for all other legislative priorities of the LGBT community, including the hate crimes measure President Obama is to sign into law on Wednesday, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Chris Bowers, writing at OpenLeft, criticized this move:

Arlen Specter is engaging in some of the more absurdly bald-faced flips that I have ever seen a candidate engage.  He does not care about policy or ideological consistency–only about getting elected.

This all might be tolerable if Specter was simply saying that he was representing the majority wishes of his constituents.  However, he keeps claiming that these about-faces are based on principle. Again, if Specter were to admit that his highest principle is getting elected, I would agree with him.

I’m certain it’s a political move, but I think that’s missing the point.  When it comes to LGBT issue support, we need to support growth.  We need to embrace evolution.  (That doesn’t mean support his candidacy; there’s a clear difference there.)

In Ohio, there’s a Democratic candidate named Jennifer Garrison who is a state representative running to be Ohio’s Secretary of State.  Garrison originally won her seat, in part, by sending out a mailer criticizing the Republican incumbent for voting against the state’s DOMA bill. Yes, you read that right: The Democrat was the “anti-gay” candidate in the race, while the Republican was the “pro-gay” candidate.  When Rep. Garrison first announced her candidacy for Secretary of state, I wrote that I was unsure whether she’d even be able to emerge victorious from a primary.

Since then, Garrison supported and spoke out in favor of Ohio’s sexual orientation and gender identity non-discrimination bill, attracted the endorsements of a majority of the Democratic caucus in the state House and convinced her primary opponent to drop out of the race.  Having cleared the field, Garrison could have gone into general election mode, but she didn’t.  Garrison and her campaign have begun taking steps to introduce herself to the LGBT community and to discuss the hurtful past the community has had with her.  Though I am not yet a Garrison “fan,” by any stretch, I definitely view her now as far less of an anti-LGBT politician than as one who wasn’t educated on our issues, has moved on them and is capable of further movement.

The same is true across the nation, and we will miss the opportunity of our age if we can’t find a way to remain critical of our politicians without completely demeaning their progression on LGBT issues.

Here are two stark numbers that show why we need to be OK with “flip-floppers” on LGBT issues:

  • Only 20 of the DOMA repeal co-sponsors (H.R. 3567) are straight and not from the West Coast, New England or BOS-NY-WASH area.
  • More than 60 of the ENDA co-sponsors (H.R. 3017) are from that group.

As the White House readies its signing ceremony for the Defense Authorization Act and President Obama’s remarks on the Hate Crimes Prevention Act becoming law, it is very clear that our movement toward equality is both geography-based and issue-based.  The issues on the coasts are simply in a different place than the issues further inland.

Roughly one-third of the co-sponsors of ENDA are from the South or inland.  Only one-fifth of the co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act come from those areas.

Simply put, “changing hearts and changing minds” will require a lot of “flip-flopping.”

But, as we advance equality, this is flip-flopping I can believe in.

Popularity: 10% [?]

About the Author

Chris Geidner is the award-winning senior political & legal reporter at BuzzFeed and has written for Metro Weekly, The Atlantic Online, The American Prospect, Advocate.com, Salon and other publications, as well as at his blog, Law Dork. He has appeared regularly on television commenting on current affairs, including MSNBC, PBS, HLN & Current. Prior to moving to D.C. in 2009, he served as an attorney on the senior staff at the Ohio Attorney General's Office and had earlier worked for a leading Columbus law firm. An extended biography can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter.