Last edited: February 14, 2005

Virginia’s Gay Vortex

When No Candidate is Clearly Supportive, Attention Turns to Least Offensive Option

Washington Blade, November 2, 2001

By Rhonda Smith

The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia decided this week not to endorse any candidate in Virginia’s statewide races Tuesday for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

"The statewide candidates have not made a positive public statement about their commitment to an inclusive Republican Party open to gays and lesbians, and that’s one of the factors we look at," said Jeffrey Miller, president of Log Cabin’s Northern Virginia chapter.

"We’re loyal Republicans, but we’re not there as a rubber stamp," Miller added. "We’re there to make a statement that we want to be included and we don’t want to hide our orientation. And our party should be a welcoming place."

Gay Democrats, however, have been scrambling to embrace Mark R. Warner for governor, even though the 46-year-old Democrat has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage and has been unwilling to publicly discuss several other gay civil rights issues generally considered important to this voting bloc. Warner has refused, for example, to say whether he would support efforts to repeal Virginia’s sodomy law.

Democratic observers concede that Warner’s stance on gay civil rights is not perfect. But when compared to his staunchly conservative Republican opponent, Mark L. Earley, they said Warner is the best choice.

"I think [Warner] gets our issues. They may not be his No. 1 priority. But I do feel he’s sensitive to our issues," said Kevin Medwedeff, president of Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club. "And when opportunities come up as governor, I feel confident he will vote in appropriate ways and push supportive legislation."

Warner’s unwillingness to support same-sex marriage and his refusal to state whether he supports gay civil rights issues related to domestic partner benefits, child custody, adoption, or the state’s sodomy law worries some longtime gay civil rights activists.

‘We shouldn’t settle’

"I am leaning more and more toward [the position] that we need to take a stand with politicians and say to them it is not OK to look us in the face and tell us they believe we are second-class citizens," said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. "And when they say they do not support same-gender marriage, that is exactly what they are saying to us."

Campaign officials in the offices of Warner and Earley did not return numerous calls from the Blade for comment.

North Carolina resident Mandy Carter, a longtime gay civil rights activist and "loyal Democrat," echoed Jean’s concerns.

"A lot of politicians are realizing they can kind of get away with this now because gay people are so happy to have anybody who supports some of their issues that they’re willing to settle," she said. "And we shouldn’t settle like this. We should be [challenging] folks. We shouldn’t just let them slide."

Harry Knox, executive director of Georgia Equality, a statewide gay civil rights group, shared another view.

"Every election cycle presents an opportunity for the community to move candidates who are inclined to be friendly a little further along than where they were when the cycle began," he said. "It really is a dance that LGBT community leaders and politicians play with each other each cycle."

In his state, Knox said, Georgia Equality’s approach has been to try to help politicians by first educating their constituents about gay civil rights issues.

"That will get their constituents to the place we need them to be before we ask the politician to go out on a limb," he said.

"It certainly helps if the politician is able and willing to help us do the education," Knox added. "But on an issue like [same-sex] marriage, where the voters in our state are clearly against it in every poll we conduct, it’s not realistic to expect a politician to be that far ahead of his or her constituents."

Winnie Stachelberg, political director at the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C., said HRC does not issue endorsements in gubernatorial races but that Warner is more supportive of gay civil rights than Earley.

"I don’t think we agree with Mark Warner on all the issues. But I think he has made a very clear stand for civil rights for all Virginians—including gay and lesbian Virginians," she said. "And each voter has to determine whether that is enough.

"Some support on gay and lesbian issues will be enough for some people, and for others it won’t," Stachelberg added. "But, by comparison, the Democratic ticket is much better for gays than the Republican ticket."

Imperfect choices

Jay Fisette, the openly gay candidate seeking a second four-year term on the Arlington County Board, agreed.

"Elections are about choices—usually imperfect choices," he said. "But comparing Warner and Earley, Warner is, by far, the better candidate for the state and for the gay and lesbian community."

The Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia endorsed Fisette’s opponent, Michael W. Clancy, an independent who said, if elected, he planned to focus more on public safety, education, and neighborhood development issues.

That group also endorsed Danny Smith, the openly gay Republican competing against longtime incumbent Democrat Bob Hull to represent the 38th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Smith, a manager at Fannie Mae, also is a Log Cabin member.

Regardless of which candidate one supports, Stachelberg said HRC has alerted its members in Virginia and New Jersey, the only other state where a governor’s race takes place Nov. 6, to vote.

Carter and Jean at NGLTF agreed.

"If you have to choose between a horrible Republican and a Democrat that can be educated and who could change, what can you do?" Carter said, from Boston.

"Most politicians, when it comes to our rights—our full rights—are being cowardly these days, even our friends," said Jean, who is based in California. "But we do have to vote for those we think are the best for us.

"But," she added, "I do not believe we should be pouring tons of money into people’s campaigns who don’t support our full equality."

Unusual election

Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Governmental Studies in Charlottesville, said there has never been a gubernatorial election like the current one in Virginia.

There also is a Libertarian candidate in the race, William B. Redpath, but he has far less support than Warner or Earley. The latest Washington Post poll of the Virginia’s governor’s race shows that Warner is leading Earley by 10 percentage points.

"The Democratic candidate cleverly re-positioned himself to neutralize almost all of the standard GOP issues—crime, taxes, gun control, and social issues except abortion—primarily by taking stands that were generally the same as those of his Republican opponent," said Sabato, a nonpartisan election analyst and author of a new book titled "OVERTIME! The Election 2000 Thriller."

Sabato noted that Warner, a multimillionaire and entrepreneur who has never held public office, has far more personal and other non-party money than Earley did, enabling Warner to finance a "Cadillac campaign."

"And the Republican governor [Jim Gilmore] and legislature handed Warner the issue of the year by deadlocking on a budget and depriving all state employees and teachers of raises," he added, "while projecting the very un-Virginian image of chaos."

Briefly during the summer, gay civil rights issues drew attention in Virginia after the Republican Party paid for a radio advertisement that claimed Warner and his Democratic running mates, Timothy M. Kaine and A. Donald McEachin, who are competing to become lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, supported legalizing same-sex marriage. The GOP also mailed fliers to Virginia residents statewide that described Warner, Kaine and McEachin as having "extreme liberal views on issues ranging from higher taxes and gay marriages to ending the death penalty."

Earley and Jay K. Katzen, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, also began touting the political slogan, "Virginia values, not Vermont values," to imply that their opponents supported gay rights including civil unions. The GOP candidate for attorney general is Jerry W. Kilgore but he has not been as vocal about gay issues.

The Washington Post reported that Earley’s supporters displayed a handwritten sign at a Democratic event that said, "Heterosexuals for Earley." Another sign reportedly said "Fags for Warner." Campaign officials in Earley’s office disavowed the signs.

Marriage issue

Earley, 47, has strong support from politically active Christian conservatives in Virginia, including Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, and Pat Robertson, host of the "700 Club," a faith-based television program.

Earley opposes adding gay men and lesbians to the list of groups protected by Virginia’s hate crime law. He also supports not changing or abolishing the state’s sodomy or "crimes against nature" law.

Most newspapers in Virginia criticized the Republican Party, as well as Earley and Katzen, for misrepresenting their opponents’ platforms. The Washington Post recently endorsed Warner; the Washington Times endorsed Earley. In addition, the Associated Press reported that President Bush recently wrote a letter urging Virginians to vote for Earley, but he did not campaign there personally. The letter was to be sent this week to "hundreds of thousands of voters," a spokesperson for Earley said.

Of the three statewide Democratic candidates, only Kaine, a civil rights lawyer and the former mayor of Richmond, said he favors granting certain rights to gay couples in long-term relationships. Those couples should have the right to enjoy the "civil benefits" available to married couples, he said.

But Kaine also told the AP, "I have never said I supported gay civil unions [or] gay marriages." Still, he said he believes people should not lose their jobs or be discriminated against "because of who they are."

And when Katzen, the Republican candidate, accused Kaine of not supporting Boy Scouts of America meetings in Virginia schools because he favors legal protection for gay people, his Democratic opponent said he had no opinion about whether the Boy Scouts should be allowed to ban gays from leadership positions.

Katzen does not support same-sex marriage. He has described Kaine as "the extremist" on this as well as issues related to gun control and the death penalty.

Gay civil rights activists, among others, criticized Katzen for telling Style Weekly, a publication in Richmond, that he opposed eliminating a state law in Virginia that makes sodomy illegal because he believes it acts as a deterrent to dangerous behavior.

"AIDS is the product, sadly, in most cases of a choice that people have made," Katzen said in July. "We recognize homosexuality is a choice. It’s a lifestyle with public-health consequences."

Katzen also said that abolishing the state’s sodomy law would be "an effort to begin the process of laying the framework for gay marriage."

A net minus

After the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which is based in Arlington, the gay-related issues were rarely mentioned again.

"Overall, the anti-gay theme was likely a net minus for the Republicans, though not a big net minus," Sabato said. "It just wasn’t in the headlines long enough to leave a lasting impression with most voters."

Jean at NGLTF said she has been more concerned about "the homophobia" that both parties have shown in the Virginia governor’s race than she has been about Warner’s stance on gay civil rights issues.

"When the Republicans started attacking the Democrats, the Democrats rushed to say ‘That’s not true,’ or to call it ‘dirty politics.’ That’s homophobia," she said. "These times require more thoughtful, different kinds of approaches from people who support equal rights for GLBT people."

David Scoven, executive director of Virginians for Justice, a nonpartisan, statewide gay organization based in Richmond, said Warner has identified "the issues people are ready to accept."

Virginians for Justice released its "candidate scorecard" in late October that rated Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general candidates, among others. Each candidate was asked to complete and return a questionnaire stating his or her views on hate crimes, the state’s sodomy and cohabitation laws, HIV/AIDS funding, "family issues," education, and legal protections against sexual orientation discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit, among other areas.

Redpath, the Libertarian candidate for governor, was the only candidate who completed and returned the questionnaire. Warner submitted a typewritten statement outlining some of the information requested on the survey. The other candidates—Earley, Kaine, Katzen, Kilgore, McEachin, and Gary A. Reams, the Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor—did not respond.

Redpath’s scored 61 out of a possible 100 points on the survey, based on his responses. He received scores of zero on questions about hate crimes and HIV/AIDS funding because of his responses. He said he opposes hate crime legislation because "a crime is a crime and ought to be punished equally with anyone as the victim." He also said he does not support state funding levels to ensure that all Virginians with HIV/AIDS receive medically indicated treatment. In addition, Redpath said he does not support sufficient funding for HIV testing, prevention and education to minimize the spread of the disease because, "individuals’ health is not the responsibility of the state."

Redpath, who does support some gay civil rights issues, such as repealing the state’s sodomy law, said he would not support legislation creating enhanced anti-discrimination laws because he believes in "freedom of association."

All Virginians

In Warner’s response letter, he said his vision for the state includes "all Virginians." He said would not support legislation to repeal Virginia’s four-year-old ban on same-sex marriage.

Warner also said in the letter that he opposes employment discrimination and that people should be hired based on their qualifications to do the job.

"As you know, many of Virginia’s largest employers and most of the nation’s most successful high-tech companies prohibit employment discrimination [based] on sexual orientation," he wrote. "Not only is opposing this the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense."

Warner said in the letter and in his "Action Plan" for Virginia that he supports expanding the state’s hate crime law to include protection for people targeted because of their sexual orientation or a disability. The current law includes protection based on race and religion.

Warner also said he supports Virginia’s Family Life Education curriculum and a system that allows parents to choose whether their child can take part in related courses. He supports a Family Life Education curriculum that includes age-appropriate HIV/AIDS prevention and education information.

Finally, Warner said he supports funding to ensure that Virginians with HIV/AIDS receive medical treatment "and sufficient funding for testing, prevention, and education to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS."

Adam Ebbin, an openly gay member of the Virginia Central Democratic Committee, said if Warner is elected, gay Virginians will advance.

"Warner is clearly more amenable to taking certain actions that benefit gay people than are the Republican candidates being supported by Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson," he said.

J. Campbell Spencer, national director for gay and lesbian outreach for the Democratic National Committee, echoed Ebbin. She said the DNC has been working with the Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club to increase turnout for the Virginia statewide races. The Democratic Party also provided staff, volunteers, and $10,000 for gay and lesbian outreach in Virginia for the 2001 election.

"We need to focus on the issues that will be immediately salient in the next governor’s four-year term," she said.

This includes working to get sexual orientation and disability language included in Virginia’s current hate crime law, addressing job security in the current economy, Spencer said, and securing more funds from the state legislature for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs.

"These are the things that are going to be at the forefront in the next governor’s four-year term, and that’s what we need to focus on," she said. "Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, and Donald McEachin will be advocates and friends of the gay and lesbian community."

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