New York senator wins support in GLBT circles despite her position against same-sex marriage, for Defense of Marriage Act
NEW YORK Ticket sales for a major gay and lesbian fundraiser for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton remained brisk on March 10, organizers said, even after the leader of the state’s largest gay rights group urged activists to boycott the event over Clinton’s opposition to gay marriage.
Some of Clinton’s most dedicated gay supporters acknowledge they are disappointed with her position, saying there is little evidence that supporting gay marriage is a risk for any politician.
The fundraiser for Clinton’s re-election campaign was the focus of a controversial memo written last month by Alan Van Capelle, head of Empire State Pride Agenda, a gay rights lobbying group. In the memo, Van Capelle called Clinton “a complete disappointment” on the gay marriage issue and said attending the fundraiser would hurt the interests of gay and lesbian voters.
“It will send a message to other elected officials that you can be working against us during this critical time and not suffer a negative pushback from the gay community,” Van Capelle wrote.
Organizers of the fundraiser insisted Van Capelle’s comments did not depress interest in the event, held at a loft in Manhattan’s trendy meatpacking district owned by dress designer Diane Von Furstenberg. About 150 people were expected, with ticket prices starting at $500 per person.
Still, the widespread publicity generated by the leaked memo illustrates the extraordinary spotlight on Clinton as she moves toward a possible presidential run in 2008.
“In the 2008 cycle, I don’t think any candidate can come out and say, “‘I am for gay marriage,”‘ said Ethan Geto, a longtime gay activist helping to organize the Clinton fundraiser. “Take Hillary Clinton and compare her to any national Democrat with presidential potential. She’s staked out very progressive turf here.”
Clinton opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions, which confer many of the same legal and economic benefits to gay and lesbian couples.
She supports the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law signed by her husband that defines marriage as “a legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife.” But she opposes a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Empire State Pride Agenda spokesman Joe Tarver said reaction to Van Capelle’s memo had been overwhelmingly positive and reflected a simmering frustration among many gay activists that Democrats take their support for granted while being timid on their issues.
“Since all this broke a couple weeks ago, support for our work has only grown stronger,” Tarver said.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force board Chairman, Jeffrey Soref, said he understood the frustrations, even though he backs Clinton and is on the host committee for the fundraiser.
“A lot of Democratic consultants and advisers tell candidates they need to duck gay issues and stay away from marriage, but there’s not a lot of evidence to support that,” he said, citing the lack of political backlash in Massachusetts, where gay marriage became legal in 2004.
Every Massachusetts lawmaker on the ballot who supported gay rights that year won another term in the Legislature. “I really think candidates need to re-evaluate how they talk about this, and what they say to the gay community,” Soref said.
But Danny O’Donnell, an openly gay state assemblyman and brother of entertainer Rosie O’Donnell, said it came down to a choice between practicality and “a purist, litmus test” approach to politics. O’Donnell and his partner, John Banta, are one of several couples who have sued New York State for the right to marry. The state’s top court is expected to resolve the matter later this year. “Does she take the position on gay marriage that I would like her to take? No, but she’s better than most,” O’Donnell said. “When gay marriage comes, and it’s coming the ball is rolling down the hill I’m sure she’ll accept it.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, March 17, 2006.