Presidential campaigns break from norm, avoid discussing LGBT rights
Lack of discourse has not diverted voters’ attention from issue
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 1, 2012 08:11
The day after President Barack Obama’s historic declaration of support for marriage equality in May 2012, a 51−percent majority of Americans supported the President’s decision, according to a poll conducted by Gallup. This was not the first survey to show popular support for same−sex marriage — a CNN/ORC poll from August 2010 initially presented this change in opinion as well. These striking numbers point to a growing movement to improve the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and the importance of LGBT issues in the minds of many Americans this election season.
Polling on LGBT rights began only recently, according to Associate Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut.
“Pollsters didn’t ask about marriage equality not that long ago because it wasn’t something that was discussed,” she said. “It wasn’t something that policymakers were debating.”
Schildkraut explained that the polls on the issue largely began when Massachusetts became the first state to legalize equal marriage. She said that polls have since shown an increasing trend within the United States toward acceptance of LGBT individuals.
“The question is if this is something that people feel strongly enough about to the point that it would affect their vote, but I would be very surprised if that’s the case,” she said.
While Schildkraut is wary of the impact of LGBT rights issues on voters’ decisions at the ballot box, the presidential campaigns have still approached them as though they hold significant influence.
Throughout the Republican primary, LGBT−related issues — most notably marriage equality — were used to energize the party’s base, according to Matthew Nelson, lecturer and Ph.D candidate in the Department of English. Nelson said that Republican candidates during this period presented these issues in a very conservative manner.
One such example is the pledge circulated by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) that promised to create a federal constitutional amendment banning same−sex marriage. Governor Mitt Romney signed the pledge alongside five other candidates, including Texas Governor Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R−Minn.).
Since the national conventions, however, the conversation surrounding LGBT rights issues has been sparse. Nelson pointed to the nation’s moderates — many of whom are highly sought−after independent voters — as a reason for the quiet stance Republicans have taken.
“Once you’re out of that primary and once you’re out of that race to the right, the Republicans realize there are middle−of−the−road people who are becoming increasingly friendly towards gay [rights] issues,” he said.
The lack of discussion is surprising, though, as many expected it to be highly debated in light of Obama’s support for marriage equality.
The reason for this lies in the fear that this would become an issue that could estrange voters, Nelson said.
In the three presidential debates and the vice presidential debate, LGBT rights were left out of the discourse. The word “gay” was never used in any of the four debates, according to an article published by The Advocate, an LGBT interest magazine, last week. This contrasts the 2008 presidential election, in which marriage equality and other concerns of the LGBT community were raised in both the presidential and vice−presidential debates.
Issues pertaining to the LGBT community are also not prominently featured on Romney’s websites. Instead, they are included as a subhead in the section on his campaign website dedicated to “Values.”
On Obama’s website, LGBT rights are outlined in the section of “Equal Rights,” but are also included is his “Obama Pride: LGBT Americans for Obama” campaign.
Emily Cardy, who co−teaches the ExCollege course “Love, Law and the State: The Evolving Right to Marry” with Ari Kristan, argued that the economy and other social issues have taken precedence over LGBT rights.
“Women’s issues have been a bigger flashpoint than same−sex marriage,” she said.
Despite the lack of political debate surrounding these issues, the candidates have taken very different stances in response to the LGBT community.
“This is one area where there are some pretty clear differences between the two candidates,” Schildkraut said.
Schildkraut argued that Obama’s support of marriage equality is potentially the clearest indicator of either candidate’s position on issues relevant to LGBT individuals.
“The Obama administration has also stopped efforts to defend [the Defense of Marriage Act] DOMA in courts,” Schildkraut said. “These are some very clear actions on the side of the Obama administration.”
Romney does not support equal marriage and promotes the concept of “traditional marriage,” which LGBT Center Director Tom Bourdon defined as marriage between one man and one woman. According to Bourdon, the Romney campaign has announced it will reinstate judicial support for DOMA, the 1996 legislation signed by President Bill Clinton that supports a traditional definition of marriage at the federal level.
Bourdon also explained that Romney continues to support the movement by NOM toward a federal constitutional amendment against same−sex marriage. He did question the impact these stances might have on LGBT−identifying citizens if Romney were elected.
“What’s not clear to me is, if they were to get that constitutional amendment through, if that means for someone such as myself, who is legally married in a state that recognizes it, that it would actually erase my marriage and every same−sex marriage that exists to this day,” he said.
Romney’s stance on equal marriage, though, is not new. As governor of Massachusetts during a time when marriage equality was approved by state legislators, he was vocal in his disagreement on the issue.