Press

First Comprehensive Report Finds Most Democratic Presidential Candidates Reflecting - Not Leading - Public Opinion on Gay Issue

Date: 
May 28, 2003

Gay Vote Represents Close to 10% of the Vote in Democratic Primaries

WASHINGTON, DC, May 28, 2003 - The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) Policy Institute today released the first comprehensive report of the positions of the 2004 Democratic Presidential candidates on key gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) issues. The 2004 Democratic Presidential Candidates on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues finds that while the candidates - as a group - hold the most pro-GLBT positions ever taken by a field of candidates for President, the majority are not leading but reflecting public opinion.

"Contrary to assertions of conservative pundits, it's clear that the Democratic candidates cannot be accused of 'pandering' to the gay community," said Matt Foreman, NGLTF Executive Director. "By and large, their positions aren't 'leading' the fight for equal rights, they simply reflect the overwhelming opinion of the American public."

"Frankly, given the crowded field and the importance of the GLBT vote in Democratic primary contests, you'd expect all the candidates to be much more out there on our issues," Foreman said. The openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual vote has emerged as a sizable, discrete voting bloc of 4 to 5 percent of the vote in national Congressional and Presidential elections and close to 10 percent in Democratic primaries. According to Voter News Service data, openly gay voters are 9 percent of the vote in large cities and 7 percent of the vote in medium-size cities.

The report, prepared by the GLBT community's premiere think tank, analyzed the positions of the nine declared Democratic candidates in 11 issue areas, including sexual orientation and gender identity nondiscrimination laws, civil unions, marriage, the ban on gay people serving in the military, and GLBT-supportive education policies.

The most supportive candidate is former Senator and ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, who has taken supportive positions in all eleven issue areas. The next most supportive is former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, who has taken positive positions in all the issue areas except same-sex marriage. The least supportive is Senator Bob Graham, who has taken pro-gay positions in only four of the eleven issue areas. Three of the front-runners have relatively solid records: Senator John Kerry has been a leader on nondiscrimination and HIV/AIDS prevention; Congressman Dick Gephardt is also a strong advocate on AIDS issues, and Senator Joseph Lieberman's support for gay rights laws dates back a quarter century.

Full Equality in Family Recognition is Area of Greatest Disagreement

The greatest area of disagreement among the Democratic presidential candidates is around extending equal rights and responsibilities to same-sex couples. Only three - former U.S. Senator and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and the Rev. Al Sharpton - support full equality in family recognition, namely, extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

Candidates Lag Behind General Public On Issue of Freedom to Marry

On the issue of the freedom to marry, the candidates are less supportive than the general public: according to a 2001 poll, nearly 40 percent of the public supports the freedom of same-sex couples to marry. Moreover, public support for equal marriage rights is growing rapidly: polls conducted in the last two months, for example, show majorities in Massachusetts and Hudson County, New Jersey support same-sex marriage.

Six of the nine candidates have expressed support for civil unions, which offer same-sex couples recognition equivalent to the rights and responsibilities married couples enjoy, but only under state law. As a result, civil unions have largely not been recognized across state lines and partners are ineligible for Social Security and other bedrock federal entitlements.

"It is disheartening that in 2003 six of the nine Democratic candidates - including all of the front-runners - do not support full equality for our families," said Sean Cahill, Director of the Task Force Policy Institute and an author of the report. "Arguing that anything less than the freedom to marry is acceptable is arguing that GLBT people should be content with less than full equality under the law."

Public support and Dem Candidates Pro-GLBT Positions Span Many Issues

All nine declared candidates are strongly supportive of sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws and eight also support the extension of domestic partner benefits. These positions are overwhelmingly supported by the public. Solid majorities of Republican (56%), Independent (70%) and Democratic (75%) voters, for example, specifically support sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws. Recent polls show that 88% of Americans support equal opportunities for gays and lesbians in the workplace, 73% believe gays and lesbians should be entitled to inheritance rights, and 68% support Social Security survivor benefits.

Seven candidates support lifting the ban against gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military, as do most (56%) Americans.

At least seven also support comprehensive sex education, and all have supported prevention efforts to stem the AIDS epidemic. Again, these positions have overwhelming public support: 96% of Americans agree that "how HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases are transmitted and how to protect against them" should be discussed in high school sex education classes.

Marked Contrast with Positions of President Bush

Despite the differences among the Democratic candidates, each is clearly more supportive of equal rights for gay people than the current occupant of the White House, George W. Bush. President Bush opposes nondiscrimination and hate crimes legislation, same-sex partner recognition, adoption, sex education, and lifting the ban on openly gay service members.

"As of today, there is simply no comparison between President Bush and any single one of the Democratic candidates on issues important to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans," said Foreman. "It's not too late, however, for the President to stand up to the right wing and for basic principles of fairness and equality."

Marked Progress and Sharp Contrast to 1992

The report also finds that the positions of the Democratic candidates are in sharp contrast to 1992, the last year there was a crowded Democratic primary field. That year, for example, the position of the leading candidate, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, on the federal gay nondiscrimination bill was unclear. None of the candidates said they supported the freedom to marry, and Clinton and former California Governor Jerry Brown opposed federal legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

"It's great that the Democratic field is much more supportive than 11 years ago, but it goes without saying that the American people are also in a vastly different place on GLBT issues than in 1992," Cahill said.

On the Republican side, gay-baiting figured prominently in the 1992 Republican Convention, with delegates brandishing signs reading "Family Values Forever, Gay Rights Never," and with seven speakers denouncing lesbian and gay rights from the podium. A meeting between the Task Force, AIDS activists and Robert Mosbacher, chair of the Bush-Quayle reelection campaign, evoked a firestorm of criticism from the Right, much like the recent meeting between Republican National Committee Chair Marc Racicot and the Human Rights Campaign has incurred the wrath of anti-GLBT activists.

Gay Vote Loyal & Potent Force, Particularly in Democratic Primaries

The report notes that the relatively broad support of GLBT issues by the Democratic candidates may reflect the growing significance of the GLBT vote, particularly in Democratic primaries. During the past decade the openly gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) vote emerged as a sizable, discrete voting bloc of 4 to 5 percent of the vote in national Congressional and Presidential elections and close to 10 percent in Democratic primaries. The proportion of the vote that is openly gay is especially high in urban states, as openly gay voters are 9 percent of the vote in large cities (population 500,000+) and 7 percent of the vote in medium-size cities (50,000-500,000), according to analysis of Voter News Service data from 1996 and 1998. That said, gay voters are everywhere; 2000 Census data showed same-sex couples living in 99.3 percent of the counties in the United States.

Moreover, studies have found that gay, lesbian and bisexual voters are the third most loyal Democratic voting bloc after African American and Jewish voters. In a close primary - which the 2004 race is expected to be - and even in a close final election like the last one, GLBT votes can make the difference between victory and defeat.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.