Last edited: February 14, 2005

When Democrats Do Bad Things - Response

When Democrats Do Bad Things

By Dale Carpenter in Independent Gay Forum

A governor criminalizes gay sex, yet gay leaders say nothing. ...

Welcome, my friends, to the world of the Democratic double standard....

Consider former Texas Governor Ann Richards. To the gay political establishment in Texas, the colorful Democrat is a saint. Yet despite Richards’ ability to wow gay audiences at black-tie dinners with her winning smile and folksy accent, her legislative legacy is darkly anti-gay. It’s her signature you’ll find on the state’s anti-gay sodomy law, after all, one of only a handful in the entire country that specifically targets gay sex. Two men in Houston were recently prosecuted for violating Richards’ law in a private home. (Note: a state appeals court has held the law unconstitutional.)

If George W. Bush had signed such a hideous law, gay activists would have blockaded every road between the Alamo and the Astrodome in protest. Yet the excuse factory rolls into production for Richards. Despite the fact that she did nothing to lobby the legislature to defeat it, gay advocates explain she was forced to sign the law because it was part of a larger overhaul of the criminal code. Despite the fact that Democrats controlled houses of the Texas legislature at the time, they complain it was really the Republicans’ fault.

Response by Bryan Wildenthal,
Associate Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego:

As a native-born Texan who closely follows Texas politics and has many friends and family in Texas who supported former Governor Ann Richards, I feel compelled to respond to Mr. Carpenter’s blatant and outrageous disinformation about her role regarding the Texas "sodomy" law. When Texas’s criminal code came up for revision in 1993, Ann Richards (rather courageously for a statewide politician in Texas) favored eliminating the criminal ban on "sodomy" which had long existed in Texas law. Richards had openly embraced gay supporters in her 1990 run for governor and had forthrightly made clear to the voters that she opposed discrimination against gays and interference in our private lives. The proposed criminal code revision she sent to the legislature eliminated the "sodomy" ban. The legislature reinstated it over her objections. She reluctantly signed the bill because vetoing it would not have accomplished anything (the existing sodomy law would simply have remained in force) and would have sacrificed many other unrelated progressive improvements in the code. While Democrats controlled the legislature at the time, Republicans were a strong minority. The Democratic-controlled State Senate actually sided with Richards in narrowly voting to eliminate the ban (almost all "yes" votes coming from Democrats and most "no" votes from Republicans). The Democratic-controlled House, regrettably, voted 75-50 to retain the ban, but almost all the 50 progressive votes came from Democrats, with Republicans almost unanimously (together with some conservative Democrats) providing the bulk of the homophobic votes. An especially vicious Republican state legislator, Jane Nelson, was the leading voice opposing the decriminalization of gay sex.

In the 1994 governor’s race, George W. Bush (whom Mr. Carpenter now supports for President) chose to make an issue out of Richards’s support for decriminalizing gay sex. She maintained her support for decriminalization, but Bush declared (and has never recanted to this day) that he would veto any bill doing so, because it was important to keep on the books a "symbolic" statement against homosexuality. Bush’s gay-baiting doubtless contributed to his defeat of Richards. Bush is now governor, but has said nothing about the recent prosecution (noted by Mr. Carpenter) of two men for having sex in the privacy of their own home. Mr. Carpenter calls it "Richards’ law" but Bush is now the chief executive of the state which is prosecuting these men. He could pardon them at any time but has done nothing. Bush is leader of the Texas State Republican Party (does anyone believe he could not engineer anything he wanted in the local party which is his lapdog?) yet he has done nothing to stop (has not even spoken out against, other than a lame call to avoid "name calling") the state party banning even the conservative gay Log Cabin Republican group from having a booth at the state Republican convention.

Gov. Richards, by contrast, was the first (and remains the only) governor in Texas history to take consistently pro-gay stands on political issues. She was the first (and remains the only) Texas governor to appoint openly gay people to offices in her campaign and administration, including her protege and supporter Glen Maxey, now an openly gay state representative from Austin.

If Mr. Carpenter wants to oppose and attack Democrats and work for the election of a proven homophobe like George W. Bush, that’s his business. But it is outrageous, and verges on libelous falsehood, for him to knowingly misrepresent, as he has, the record of a great progressive Governor like Ann Richards.

Dale Carpenter responds

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