Presidential Candidates Court Gay
As the presidential election draws closer,
Senators John McCain and Barack Obama are shoring
up their bases while courting voters of all backgrounds
By Noah C. Zuss
the last four decades as the gay rights movement
has grown stronger, it has also become more politically
visible and valuable as a reliable voting block.
Daniel Dromm, the openly gay Jackson Heights Democratic
District Leader and possible 2009 City Council
candidate reached by telephone said this group
is growing and becoming increasingly politically
"In 1993 when I started the parade in Jackson
Heights there was about 10,000 people that came.
This year we expect almost 30,000 and as the numbers
grew so did the politicians at the event. They
recognize this group is politically active and
want to show their support."
Elected officials marching in this year's parade
include Queens Assemblyman Jose Peralta (D-Jackson
Heights). He applauds the borough's Democratic
leadership in recognizing the changing demographics.
Named a grand marshal for the annual parade on
June 1, Peralta is showing his support for this
community by marching.
On the local level many elected officials like
Peralta do support equal rights for the lesbian,
gay, bisexual and transgender community.
At the national level it can be rare.
However, in this election there has been a departure
from the past. As the movement has grown, all
viable presidential candidates seeking nomination
have courted gay voters.
Sen. John McCain, long a conservative maverick,
uncomfortable with stodgy Republicanism has taken
many unpopular positions on social issues, but
not on gay rights until recently.
During a pre-recorded May 22nd appearance on "The
Ellen DeGeneres Show" McCain debated gay marriage
with the openly-gay host and touched on issues
important to the LGBT community.
On the show McCain repeated his position that
while he opposes gay marriage, he believes same-sex
couples should be allowed to enter into legal
agreements for insurance and other purposes. Instead
of backing equal marriage rights for same-sex
couples, Senator McCain favors civil unions instead,
a position many of his Republican colleagues still
do not feel comfortable expressing.
Though a die-hard Sen. Hillary Clinton supporter
Dromm is quite aware of the changing climate on
the topic of equal rights for same-sex couples.
"The movement is only 40 years old and has grown
so much. I have seen so many changes I couldn't
even imagine," Dromm said. "On Ellen he said he
supports civil unions - that's newsworthy in itself
that a politician comes out and supports civil
Even the liberal Sen. Barack Obama opposes gay
marriage. But he does however support civil unions
and gay equality.
In general Dromm feels politicians are courting
gay voters like never before.
"Absolutely, even McCain's acknowledgement of
civil unions shows the fact that these are visible
issues and a valuable asset to a campaign. The
gay vote is a constituency that cannot be ignored."
Some estimates put the percentage of gay and lesbian
Americans at 5 to 10 percent of the overall population,
and 8 to 12 percent of the voting population.
Obama is the young, liberal presidential candidate
in this election and will certainly stake political
ground to the left of Sen. McCain. He has earned
high marks from non-profit and advocacy groups
because of his work and voting record.
In the Illinois Senate Obama was known as a liberal
who was not afraid to build bridges across party
lines during his term in the State Senate Capitol.
He gained a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood
for his support of family planning and abortion
rights legislation. Obama also supported gay rights
during his time in the State Senate. He sponsored
legislation in Illinois that would ban discrimination
on the basis of sexual orientation.
In the United States Senate, Obama scored 89 out
of 100 on the 2006 scorecard issued every two
years by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest
national gay and lesbian organization in the country.
The group releases a scorecard for members of
the Senate based on their sponsorship and voting
on key issues of importance to gay and lesbian