LGBT voters have a whole host of concerns as they head to the polls this November and choose the next leader of our country. GO Magazine talks to insiders to break down where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney stand on the issues that matter to you.
Among the experts we spoke with, there was a bipartisan consensus that the 2012 election is really the most important one of our time—and a confirmation that the current Congress is broken. When voters go to the polls, they enter with myriad concerns. Maybe the last thing you saw before you pulled into the poll site was $4-per-gallon gasoline, or you were thinking of your loved one in the hospital and the exorbitant cost of her care. Whatever’s on your mind, it’s likely tied to the economy. Both Obama and Romney agree that job creation and boosting the economy are the prime issues in this race—and that every other issue, from women’s rights to immigration, is linked to whether Americans can afford to pay rent and put food on the table.
Proponents for both parties understand that gay rights are not the only issue that LGBT voters care about. In his nomination convention acceptance speech, Governor Romney asked if Americans feel better off today than they did four years ago, and said that he has a plan to create “15 million jobs” (without providing specifics).
An Obama campaign spokesman told GO, “The LGBT community is standing strong behind the President because of his commitment to building a strong economy built to last, and because he has done more to advance gay rights than any other President—from calling for the repeal of the so-called De-fense of Marriage Act to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to securing hospital visitation rights for LGBT partners, to name a few. That record stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney’s, who will pay for his tax cuts for the wealthy by increasing taxes on the middle class.” The campaign spokesman continued by saying that Romney “is working to enshrine discrimination into the Constitution by passing a federal marriage amendment. The community is supporting President Obama because it recognizes he is committed to equal rights, versus Mitt Romney, who has pledged to roll back the community’s rights.”
Conservatives are unwilling to cede ground, however, and are casting the election as a referendum on the economy. “Our country is facing issues so great that it's time to come together to confront them. We are on the brink of fiscal disaster, we have a stalled economy, and people need jobs. And that's what this election is about for everyone, and gay and lesbian voters are no different,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud, an organization that works to increase LGBT acceptance among conservative Republicans. “Every issue is a gay issue, and I think that every voter, whether you are straight or gay, has the same things on their mind this year when they are going into the voting booth. How am I going to put gas in the car, pay rent, feed my kids, and prepare for retirement in this uncertain time? I think that many voters who voted for president Obama last time are coming to the decision that they just can't afford to give him another term, no matter how much they agree with him on some issues. This election is bigger than any one issue.”
In terms of the economy, President Obama has signed a number of bills aimed at addressing the nation's economic woes, such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which saved jobs for educators and emergency responders, and a homebuyer tax credit to encourage the housing market. Unfortunately, stimulus funding that has helped to preserve jobs for teachers and firefighters dries up this year. Obama has also pushed unsuccessfully for other economic fixes, including renewing the transportation bill, which has instead languished in Congress. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the country has had a net gain in jobs over the past 24 months. At the same time, the unemployment rate has remained roughly the same since Obama took office.
Reaction to Obama’s statement in support of same-sex marriage was unanimously positive within the LGBT community. But some voters may question the timing of his declaration, which was just as the general election fight started in earnest. And even if his announcement was calculated, will voters be turned off enough to choose Romney, who has promised to defend DOMA?
Although six states and the District of Columbia now permit same-sex marriages, same-sex partners lack recognition and benefits at the federal level due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was enacted in 1996. An additional four states have marriage questions on the ballot this November. Efforts to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals DOMA, gained the first Republican co-sponsor in Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in 2011. At the time, she told The Advocate, “I voted against the constitutional amendment defining marriage [in 2006] so I’m pleased to cosponsor the repeal of DOMA and work with my colleagues on marriage equality.”
“While there is a lot riding on the outcome of the November elections, we are optimistic that everything will align to move the Respect for Marriage Act forward and repeal DOMA. And certainly it's very likely that the Supreme Court will take up the question of whether DOMA is constitutional, and we believe the answer there to be a resounding ‘no’,” stated Jo Deutsch, Federal Director of Freedom Marry.
The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) prohibits workplace discrimination based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, and is supported by more than 90 major corporations. It has languished in Congress, however, despite public support. Polling by the Center for American Progress shows that a majority (73 percent) of Americans approve of protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, but that 90 percent of people erroneously believe that LGBT workers are already protected under federal law. The bill received its first Senate hearing in three years this past summer at the behest of Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). The first and last time ENDA had a full Senate vote was in September 1996.
Tico Almeida, founder and president of the LGBT organization Freedom to Work, told GO that “ENDA has super-majority support among the American public, and voters deserve to know whether our representatives support LGBT Americans' freedom to work without discrimination.”
ENDA House sponsor and retiring Representative Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has said that what is needed to pass ENDA is a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic President. Obama has stated his support for ENDA, and while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in April 2012 that transgender individuals are protected under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, it still leaves millions of gays and lesbians vulnerable to workplace discrimination.
Almeida continued, “We are also looking for a major advance in workplace fairness later this year as we remain hopeful President Barack Obama will fulfill a campaign promise from four years ago by signing an executive order banning anti-LGBT workplace discrimination at the companies that profit from tax-payer-funded contracts. Most of the top government contractors—companies like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin—already have LGBT non-discrimination rules, and they adopted them because they realize that discrimination is bad for the bottom line. President Obama’s executive order will only affect the hold-out companies that still engage in prejudice. As taxpayers, we should never have our money squandered by letting our government subsidize discrimination and harassment.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney does not support a federal ENDA law, a change from his 1994 Senate position. He stated in a 2007 Meet the Press interview that “I would not support [it] at the federal level, and I changed in that regard because I think that policy makes more sense to be evaluated or to be implemented at the state level.” At this time, 34 states fail to protect workers from gender identity discrimination and 29 states do not cover sexual orientation as a protected class.
The Obama campaign has alleged that the Republicans are waging a “war on women” that would roll back rights and benefits gained in the past 20 years. One of the most recent successes that women nationwide are celebrating is lower costs for contraception as of August 1, a highlight of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The historic plan also eliminates discriminatory pricing based on gender and requires employer-based plans to cover contraceptive, maternity and preventive care. The ACA also prevents employers from denying coverage to children and students and from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
“President Obama championed historic health reform, giving millions of women access to affordable and accessible health care,” the campaign’s spokesman told us. “Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has promised to repeal Obamacare, returning Americans to the days when insurance companies had unchecked power to deny or cancel coverage when patients needed it most or charge women more than men for the same coverage simply because of their gender.”
Indeed, Romney has repeatedly stated that he would “repeal and replace” Obamacare, but he has not pushed forth a solid plan. And yet—as we all know—many of the provisions in the ACA were provisions that Romney himself adopted as Governor of Massachusetts, including cost-effective healthcare exchanges. One of the most incongruous sights this election was watching Vice Presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proclaim that they would “protect and strengthen Medicare.” In reality, Ryan has led the charge to turn the system into a voucher program that would fail to keep up with skyrocketing health care costs, and ultimately leave senior beneficiaries more vulnerable.
Women concerned about equal pay also have a lot at stake in this election. The Paycheck Fairness Act failed to pass a committee vote in the Democrat-controlled Senate in June. Its expected failure was meant to embarrass Republicans and boost Obama’s credit with women voters.
"Forty-nine years after the Equal Pay Act was signed into law, women earn 23 percent less than a man makes. When women get a mortgage, we don't get a 23 percent discount. When we go to buy food, we don't get a 23 percent discount. When we go to pay our utility bills, they don't say you're paid less; we're going to give you a discount," said Senator Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland. “That’s why I introduced the Paycheck Fairness Act earlier this year. American women can’t wait another 49 years. It’s time to close the loopholes and level the playing field.”
Romney's campaign has said that he supports equal pay for women and that Romney “would not repeal current law,” such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Despite repeated questioning, the campaign has yet to clearly state whether Romney supports the Paycheck Fairness Act. Bonnie Grabenhofer, Executive Vice President for the National Organization for Women, confirms that Obama has actively lobbied for paycheck fairness and put women first. “The economic stimulus package saved and created jobs in traditionally women-focused fields like health care and education, and also increased [funding for] Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment, which many women are dependent on. It saved about 400,000 teachers' jobs. In addition, Obama created an equal pay taskforce in 2010 to identify weaknesses in the current strategy and eliminate the pay gap and coordinate efforts between the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Department of Labor and the Office of Personnel Management.”
When asked about Romney's record, she said, “My guess is that women wouldn't fare as well, especially if you look at the Ryan budget that runs roughshod over jobs and services that disproportionately affect women.“
Carol Rosenblatt, Executive Director of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, shared her perspective: “Women are too smart to be used as pawns in elections. They will ask the right questions and then will evaluate how to vote. They know it is the economy that is key and will vote that way.”
In this season of hard-hitting political ads, you could imagine the ad that would follow a U.S. Representative who voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Enacted in 1994, the law protects victims of domestic abuse, rape and stalking. It's hard to see the upsides of vot-ing against the bill, which includes funding for a crisis hotline that women can turn to for help and other protections.
And yet, 31 Senators (all Republican men) voted against the bill. And 222 U.S. Representatives (overwhelmingly Republ-ican) voted for a version that would essentially strip protections and decrease funding for victims, leaving them more vulnerable to abuse. Perhaps this is less surprising given Missouri Congressman Todd Akin's professed belief in “legitimate rape.” (Both Akin and GOP VP nominee Paul Ryan voted against an inclusive VAWA.) The House version was so extreme that President Obama threatened to veto it if it reached his desk. The Senate version contains more funding for education and would extend explicit protections to the LGBT, immigrant and Native American communities.
NOW VP Grabenhofer is one of the women frustrated that Congress has been unable to pass a VAWA reauthorization that includes protections for LGBT victims of domestic violence. “I find it unbelieveable that there's a controversy; it was previously passed twice with bipartisan support. Now the House not only wants to undercut some previous provisions, and they want to undercut underserved populations,” she said. She noted that research shows that the women who are turned away from life-saving provisions tend to be members of the communities that the Senate version covers. Grubenhofer added, “I find it absolutely incredible that someone could go back to their district and say, ‘I voted against the Violence Against Women Act.’ The House version eliminates these provisions. So hopefully in 2012, we'll get a better batch, we want everyone included in an inclusive VAWA that protects all the victims.”
While this Congress remains in a deadlock, funding for investigating and prosecuting crimes of domestic abuse hang in the balance. Obama has clearly and resolutely stated his position on VAWA, and in 1994, then-Senator Joe Biden was an original co-author of the bill. In contrast, Romney said in 2008 that he is “not familiar” with the bill. His current campaign spokeswoman later said that he supports the bill without specifying which version he stands behind. Boston Globe columnist Eileen McNamera dug deeper and found that Gov. Romney had cut funding to domestic shelters in 2006.
Over his first term, the Obama administration has made investing in clean energy technology and jobs a priority while increasing American oil production. The administration just released a new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard for new vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon for new cars. Al-though environmentalists were disappointed that the president decided to allow Shell to conduct limited drilling in the Arctic, many activists believe that he is a champion for conservation. The new CAFE ruling alone is projected to cut carbon in half by 2025 and save consumers $140 billion, as well as create 570,000 jobs by 2030.
“Obama has done the best he could during the first term with a dysfunctional Congress. Where he could have acted, he has. He acknowledges climate change and addresses climate change, and has addressed the health concerns of these pollutants. The clean cars rule will be one of the single most important [developments] in the fight against climate change. It impacts the transportation sector and also will make the air cleaner and our children healthier,” declared Heather Taylor-Misele, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund.
As governor, Mitt Romney supported the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and boosted energy efficiency. Now, as a presidential candidate, he wants to undo fuel efficiency and mileage standards, and would seek to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from protecting Americans from carbon pollution. He even seems to have backtracked on his belief that humans contribute to climate change, saying in October of 2011 that “we don't know what's causing climate change on this planet.”
“Elections are about choices, when it comes to promoting clean energy and addressing the energy crisis, the choices are clear,” added Jeff Gohringer, press secretary for the League of Conservation Voters. “Romney's energy plan was written by Big Oil. At least Dick Cheney waited until he got into the White House to write our nation's energy plan.”
And though Romney seems to have taken varying positions on climate change, his running mate Paul Ryan is a true conservative on the issue, and voted to cut $50 million of funding that would investigate advanced energy technologies. The Romney campaign's main energy adviser is Harold Hamm, who has made billions in the oil industry and stands to gain financially if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, a project Romney supports and Obama opposes.
Gohringer continued, “When you talk about addressing the energy crisis and clean energy, this country has led every technological innovation in the past century, and we can lead in this one too—but not if Mitt Romney has his way. He's called clean technology ‘expensive fads’ and said, ‘they're not real technology.’ His opposition to clean energy is a shame for more than 3 million workers who work in this field every day across the country. From 2005-2010, the top oil companies made $500 billion in profits while laying off more than 10,000 American workers…We continue to be surprised by how hostile Mitt Romney is to clean energy technology.”
Recently, Romney surprised many clean energy advocates by opposing tax credits for wind energy, an issue that has met with bipartisan support and which was initiated under President George H. W. Bush. Navigant Consulting, a non-partisan business consultancy, estimates that if the wind tax credit is not renewed by 2013, that swing states like Colorado and Iowa will lose 37,000 jobs.
Foreign Policy and Immigration
The President's most notable accomplishments have been authorizing the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, ending the war in Iraq, and winding down military operations in Afghanistan. Romney's foreign policy priorities are to increase defense spending, including the national ballistic missile defense system, and permanently place aircraft carriers in the Gulf to deter Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Dave Solimini, Communications Director at the Truman Project, a national security leadership institute, contrasted the two candidates’ approaches. “For four years, President Obama has kept us safe, and ensured that we are more respected around the world and strong at home. Romney and Ryan offer little more than vague promises and reckless saber-rattling with no plan to address the threats of the 21st century.”
In addition to a strong foreign policy, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pushed several measures abroad to support gay rights, including issuing a memorandum directing federal agencies to “promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons” in regards to their foreign aid programs. These changes have put pressure on nations like Malawi to stop discriminatory practices like sentencing gay couples to jail.
A State Department spokesman noted that LGBT Foreign Service officers and their same-sex partners now enjoy greater benefits. “During overseas service, we are providing diplomatic passports for American citizens (non-citizen same-sex domestic partners can receive a Letter of Recognition), inclusion on employee travel orders to and from posts abroad; use of overseas medical facilities and medical evacuation from posts abroad; training at the Foreign Service Institute, and consideration for employment of domestic partners who wish to work outside the U.S.”
“The human rights of LGBT people are the same individual human rights and fundamental freedoms that belong to every member of the human family—these are not new or special rights,” the State Department spokesman continued. “The government of the United States, including the State Department, does stand up for universal human rights, including the rights that allow LGBT people to live free of stigma and condemnation. LGBT people have the right to feel safe out on the street without fear of violence or discrimination. LGBT people should be able to get an education, find healthcare, rent a house or have a job without suffering discrimination.”
For LGBT couples who are in mixed immigration status relationships, it's hard to think that your partner might be suddenly separated from you. Today, the Defense of Marriage Act prevents 36,000 same-sex bi-national couples from sponsoring their spouses, through marriage, to enter and live in the United States. To address this concern, LGBT groups like Immigration Equality and heterosexual immigration activists joined forces to push for family reunification for all—to revise and update a family reunification system that has not changed in two decades.
There are many values that unite both communities. Jessie Ulibarri, current state representative candidate in Colorado and a former organizer with the Colorado Progressive Coalition, describes how the two communities share “basic values of fairness, being treated fairly under state laws, being treated with respect. Those values unite the communities more than specific policies.”
Congressman Mike Honda (D-Calif.), whose family was interned during World War II, helped to bridge the divide by including LGBT families in his re-introduced Reuniting Families Act (RFA). The bill is aimed at fixing the problems in the United States' family-based immigration system that separate spouses, children and their parents, who have played by the rules for years. Rep. Honda told GO that, “No one should have to choose between their loved ones and their country. No family should be left out of the immigration system. As someone who was separated from family members during my childhood, I never want anyone to be torn apart from their loved ones just on the basis of who they are.”
“Congress has the moral and political imperative to reform our nation's broken immigration system in a sensible and just way—reform that respects the dignity of immigrant communities, recognizes their tremendous contributions to our economy, and protects all families, regardless of sexual orientation," the Congressman added. “I will continue to fight for the equal rights of all underrepresented communities, and eliminate discrimination in immigration law against same-sex, permanent partners and their families who are seeking to reunite.”
Whatever lingering thoughts are on your mind before you step into your polling place, at least you’ll be informed of the distinct differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Now get out there and vote.