Friday
July 27, 2007
V 35 Issue 30

 
 
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Cost of the
War in Iraq
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Something rotten in the Senate
Something rotten in the Senate
It's the stench of Gay rights bills languishing despite six months of 'friendly' Democrats in control.

by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

The latest casualty in George Bush's fiasco in Iraq is the Gay-inclusive hate crime bill, a victim of friendly fire in the U.S. Senate.

Gay rights champion Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) attached the measure to the massive Defense Department reauthorization, saying it would inoculate it from a Bush veto. Instead, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention/Local Law Enforcement Act has been dragged down along with the unending debate over withdrawal from Iraq, which Democrats included in the same piece of legislation.

Now the Human Rights Campaign tells us not to expect a vote on hate crimes before Congress has its August recess, and says our "congressional allies - including Senate leadership - remain committed to getting a vote on hate crimes this year."

As much as HRC and its "allies" want us to believe they gave it their all and their hands were tied, something smells rotten in the Senate. It is the stench, once again, of Gay rights measures languishing in a Congress controlled by a party that says it is committed to our equality.

In addition to hate crimes, there's no talk at all of votes in the House or Senate for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, even though it has majority support in both chambers. Insiders aren't surprised. Democrats and HRC have been hinting privately since January that "the deal" cut with the party's leadership is that only hate crimes would get a vote this year. This "frustrating delay" is actually just political theater at our expense.

If the Democrats really wanted to pass hate crimes quickly, they would not have burdened the bill by linking it to easily the most controversial piece of legislation in Congress. The hate crimes measure on its own has bipartisan majority support in the Senate and so would pass if voted on as a free-standing measure (or attached to something germane and not so controversial).

There is the potential for filibuster, of course, which would raise the bar to 60 votes for Senate passage, but there's no guarantee (or even a specific threat) that the Republicans would target such a popular measure. The last time the Gay-inclusive hate crimes bill passed the Senate, in June 2004, the vote was 65 to 33, with 18 Republicans voting in favor. That's not only enough to overcome a filibuster, it's just shy of enough to override a veto.

But instead of progress, our equality is treated like a political football to Howard Dean, Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders. In years past, they called for votes on Gay rights measures when the GOP controlled Congress and they knew Republicans would kill them; now they sit on their hands when they're in control.

They do so not because they oppose our civil rights; their support is real, if mostly rhetorical. But they know that if a hate crimes bill passes, or even if it's vetoed, the Gays will start clamoring for a vote on ENDA. If ENDA passes or is vetoed, then "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is next on the list. And as we travel down that list, the political risk to Democrats grows. Or worse yet, a lame duck Republican president might sign hate crimes or ENDA, and the Democrats' lock on being the party of equality would be challenged.

It all boils down to this: Democrats have controlled Congress for six months now, and no Gay rights bill has made it onto their priority list for passage. Now, according to HRC, all we've got is a "commitment" for a vote on hate crimes "this year." Even if that happens, that still leaves ENDA, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and a half-dozen other Gay rights bills languishing in Congress.

And when "this year" is over, and maybe hate crimes at best will have gotten a vote, we already know what we'll be told because we've heard it so many times before: 2008 is an election year, and Gay rights is too hot a potato to touch right now.

Now is the time to put up or shut up for those senators running for president claiming they would show "leadership" on Gay rights from the White House. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd should show some "leadership" now and demand a vote in the Senate on the Gay rights bills that are pending.

To be clear, criticizing these Democrats is not to say Republicans are better. Of course they're not, and anyone who suggests otherwise should have their head examined. But the question is whether our energy is better spent complaining about conservative Republicans we'll never change or pressing "friendly" Democrats who actually control the fate of our legislation.

Even our friends in Congress are politicians first and will take the path of least resistance. We need to make action more attractive than inaction for them. Look no further than the anti-war movement's unrelenting pressure and the way Democrats have responded. Only we have the votes on our bills that they do not. Now is the time to press HRC and the Democrats for a vote on hate crimes by the end of the summer, and ENDA by the end of the year. Bring our bills to a vote! Bring our bills to a vote!

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and Gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.

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