August 06, 2007

The Winner in Thursday Night's Debate? The GLBT Community

This article on The Huffington Post points out that what is said during Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate on the LOGO network is not nearly as important as the fact that all the candidates will be there saying it.

What's important about the Human Rights Campaign-sponsored debate is its mere occurrence. If the Dems are confident enough to tackle gay issues head-on for a full hour, it means they're no longer worried that the Republicans will throw it back in their faces. They're not afraid, and more importantly, they're betting voters aren't afraid either.

During the 2004 presidential elections George Bush was able to make a lot of headway by scaring moderate voters with the twin specters of activist judges and the impending doom of traditional marriage. The Massachusetts Supreme Court gay marriage ruling had just been handed down, and Bush, eyeing re-election, called it "arbitrary" and "undermining" to families. Nobody knew what might happen if gay partnerships were made legal -- and Republicans worked to make this unknown quantity as frightening as possible.

As real-life experiments with equal gay rights are carried out federally and locally all over the world, the GOP can no longer count on the issue to scare voters to the ballot box. It may be that the long-term results in those places are not what gay activists would hope for, but in the short term, growing familiarity with the issue is working in their favor. The Democratic presidential candidates, sensing this change, have come out of their shells to talk about the issue openly and comfortably. It will no longer be an ignored plank in their broad platforms, as it was in 2004 when John Kerry rarely addressed his support of civil unions until after Bush suggested a federal amendment banning same sex marriage.

This time around, the Democratic candidates have already been more vocal about their positions. During Thursday's HRC debate, nobody is likely to say anything shocking or new. But for supporters of gay rights and marriage equality, merely having a debate says it all.

Even four years ago, having this debate would have seemed farfetched. For people waiting year after year to gain equal rights, I understand why that may not seem like a big deal, but it is.

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