No, Bernie Sanders Was Not “The” Pioneer For Marriage Equality

No, Bernie Sanders Was Not “The” Pioneer For Marriage Equality

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It is human nature to be disappointed when an opponent in any endeavor garners support, or an endorsement, that one thinks they deserve. It is petty, though, when that disappointment translates into what plainly appears as “sour grapes” and worse when it leads to obvious misstatements to devalue the support your opponent received. That seems to be precisely the case after the Human Rights Campaign endorsed Hillary Clinton instead of Bernie Sanders.

It is interesting that presidential candidate Bernie Sanders appears to be as aggrieved that the country’s largest LGBT rights group endorsed his opponent as his passionate supporters. Of course Senator Sanders is not accusing the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) of being paid by the Clinton campaign, being shills for Wall Street or Goldman Sachs in particular, or just generally hating Bernie Sanders. The Sanders campaign claim that they do not need HRC’s support because he has a strong record on gay rights; something the HRC readily acknowledges as a fact.

What cannot be acknowledged as completely truthful is a statement by Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs who was a little more than irritated that HRC did not endorse his boss. He claimed that Senator Sanders has been way ahead of everyone in America in being a staunch advocate for same-sex marriage. As proof, Briggs cited the senator’s support for civil unions in Vermont in 2000. Except that civil unions are not the same as marriage equality any more than a hammer is the same as a gun; but that does not seem to matter in this political climate.

Briggs said that Sanders was “a pioneer on this early version of gay marriage and has by far the most exemplary record on gay rights of any candidate ever in American history.” That statement lacks veracity on a few points according to American history.

The real pioneer for marriage equality was not Senator Sanders or Hillary Clinton; no matter what the Sanders’ campaign or his passionate supporters claim. That admirable distinction goes to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) who dependably introduced a bill to repeal the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) in every session of Congress since 2009; an act that enraged right-wing religious groups at every turn and failed to garner much support even in the then-Democratically-controlled House or Senate.

While it is true that Bernie Sanders says he is proud to be from Vermont that was the first state to allow civil unions in 2000, that occurred while he was a member of the U.S. Congress; he had no hand, pioneering or otherwise, in crafting or passing the state’s legislation. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that Senator Sanders did indeed support civil unions, but only for Vermont citizens.

What is surprising, really, is that Sanders supported Vermont’s civil unions for precisely the same reason he opposed DOMA in 1996; his staunch belief that equality or the lack thereof was the purview of each individual state, not the federal government. In 2006 Senator Sanders reiterated his support for civil unions, but not same-sex marriage and once again demurred to the “Tenther” position deferring to each state the purview to either allow, or deny, LGBT equality under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; the same position held by several former Confederate states today.

No-one in their right mind would claim Senator Sanders is not an ardent champion of equal and civil rights; he certainly is and his record cannot be argued. However, he was not a pioneer for marriage-equality. In fact, in 2000 a Vermont opinion columnist wrote that not only was the Vermont Independent not an advocate for marriage equality, he shunned talking about the issue like plague by avoiding the subject altogether. As the columnist put it in 2000, “getting a straight answer from Sanders on gay marriage was like pulling teeth… from a rhinoceros.”

Here is what Bernie supporters and likely some Sanders’ campaign people completely miss about the Human Rights Campaign; believe it or not, it is about so much more than just advocating for marriage equality. It is likely why the LGBT rights organization endorsed Hilary Clinton; even though she, like most Democrats including neophyte Sanders, went through an oft-cited “evolution” on the matter of same-sex marriage.  Clinton has been a fierce advocate for LGBT (human) rights at home and worldwide as Secretary of State and it is likely, above all, the reason the Human Rights Campaign endorsed her;  it is not like the HRC were unaware that the majority of the American people have “evolved” on the issue of marriage equality even while being strong advocates for LGBT rights.

What the HRC likely took into account in endorsing Clinton was that within a couple of months as being confirmed as Secretary of State in 2009, she made huge strides in unilaterally changing the way the giant federal agency treated its employees. Her first move was to announce that gay diplomats would begin receiving the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts; benefits that were previously denied because they were gay.

Over the next few years as head of the State Department, Clinton was unrelenting in pushing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality both at the State Department and around the world. In fact, apparently her emails released by the State Department show that she and her top advisers were exploring every way possible to move forward on the issue. No doubt the HRC was aware of Clinton’s work on LGBT rights at home and internationally when they made their endorsement decision. Remember, the marriage equality issue is settled and yet the HRC is still fighting for LGBT rights at home and abroad.

In what was regarded as an historic speech in 2011 in Switzerland, Clinton declared that, “Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human. And that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” Now this may seem like a declaration of the obvious in some parts of America in 2015, but on the world stage in 2011 it was huge to bring attention to the barbaric treatment of gays around the world the religious right support and want to impose on America’s LGBT community.

It is disappointing that over a political endorsement a candidate’s campaign has to make absurd statements that are just too easy to refute. That Senator Sanders is an ardent champion of equal and civil rights for all Americans cannot possibly be disputed by anyone. But that he was the greatest pioneer for marriage equality or gay rights in American history is as easily debunked by his own record as it would have been if Hillary Clinton’s campaign had said it.

For a campaign to make such a statement because a human rights organization endorsed your opponent is unbecoming of a human rights champion. It also gives the impression that the campaign knows very little about the Human Rights Campaign that has and continues working tirelessly for more than marriage equality they fought courageously to be enacted nationwide and not, as Senator Sanders said for years, should be left up to the states.

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