Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the only openly lesbian Member of Congress, is predicting passage of hate crimes legislation and repeal of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) in the next Congress regardless of who is elected President. She told THE WASHINGTON BLADE, the newspaper in the Nation's capital city appealing to homosexuals, that action on those two measures will be her top priority in 2009.
The Republican Leadership managed to tie up the hate crimes bill last year and this year as well. It would make discrimination against homosexuals a Federal crime. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) had problems with his own caucus on the question of whether or not transgender individuals should be included in the legislation.
DOMA was passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President William J. (Bill) Clinton on the eve of the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Clinton signed the bill in the middle of the night to avoid DOMA's becoming a controversy at his own convention. DOMA looked ahead to anticipate exactly the situation confronting us in 2008. It provides that if a State of the Union legalizes homosexual marriage no other State is required to recognize that action. Just this year the California Supreme Court legalized homosexual marriage, by a 4-3 vote. A measure to amend the California State Constitution overturning that decision qualified for the ballot this November. If the proposed amendment did not pass and subsequently DOMA were repealed all States would be required to recognize same-sex marriages as currently all States recognize traditional marriages valid in other States.
While Representative Baldwin is correct that the new Congress surely will pass the repeal of DOMA, it is not certain what would happen if the bill were upon the President's desk. Senator Barak H. Obama (D-IL) supports repeal. Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ) voted for DOMA when it passed the Congress. Thus far he has not indicated what he would do if DOMA were repealed.
Baldwin and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) were also on a panel sponsored by the Center for American Progress. Smith agreed with Baldwin that these two measures would pass the next Congress. He hinted but did not outright confirm that Senator McCain would sign any such measure.
Both legislators also believe that there will be progress as to passage of the Domestic Partner Benefits and Obligations Bill although this bill has not been reported out of committee. It would grant to homosexual partners the same privileges under law that a married couple currently enjoys. Baldwin did indicate that repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell" legislation would be difficult because many Members who originally voted for it remain in Congress. The measure passed the Congress soon after Clinton took office in 1993. Smith said he voted for DOMA because he didn't want Federal judges "to impose it on other parts of the jurisdiction." Smith said if government starts redefining marriage "it could have detrimental consequences for some groups." He said tinkering with the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman would have implications that "are much broader than the gay and lesbian community."
The point is this. The homosexual community has an agenda. It plans to hit the ground running. The pro-family community is mostly on the defensive. The homosexual community at this stage very much reminds me of the emerging pro-family community in 1980. That year, Senator Paul Laxalt (R-NV), Ronald Reagan's closest friend in the Congress, introduced the Family Protection Act. It was an agenda carefully assembled by the family community. It enabled that community to hit the ground running when Ronald Reagan became President. The homosexual community, which had been showing its muscle in the 1970s, became defensive after 1980. The situation today is nearly the mirror-image of the situation more than a quarter of a century ago. In policy politics the pendulum swings back and forth. Yesterday it was the pro-family community which was on the offensive, the homosexual community on the defensive. Now, because the homosexual community believes the number of Members sympathetic to its agenda will greatly increase, it is on the offensive. While elements of the Family Protection Act were enacted into law, the pro-family community has not been on the offensive for some years. Hence, there has been a stand-off. The homosexual community did not have the votes to accomplish its agenda but it did have the votes to thwart some pro-family measures. Only the pro-life issue advanced on the margins these past few years.
As Jack Kemp always reminded us, in this business you are either on offense or defense. Unless and until the pro-family groups again are able to go on the offense they are likely to loose ground. As unfortunate as that may be, it is reality. To return to the offense the pro-family forces would need more Members of Congress. At this stage it appears they will be dealing next year with fewer, not more, in sympathy with their agenda. More Members, it seems to me, must be that community's first priority if it expects to be successful.