Out of the White House Closet

Gay Rights Steps Out As Presidential Politics Comes to New York

Nevertheless, Evan Wolfson, director of the Marriage Project of Lambda Legal Defense Fund, is encouraged. "The only mistake we make is when we let them off the hook by asking for less," he said. He is also optimistic. A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans believe same-sex marriage will be legalized in the new century.

The only candidate who is determined not to discuss gay issues is the front-runner, Texas governor George W. Bush. He did not bring them up in his Christian Coalition appearance last week, especially since his theme has been positioning himself as a centrist.

If Clinton is on a farewell tour, Bush's campaign appearances are more like victory parties. At his $1000-per-person cocktail party at the Sheraton October 6, both his dad's brother Jonathan and former state comptroller Ned Regan were among those who smilingly brushed off Voice questions about issues like W.'s support of antisodomy laws that might make him less than acceptable to Rockefeller Republicans, no less Democrats and Independents. The only visible gays spotted were Giuliani appointees Christopher Lynn ("I'm here for Rudy") and Antonio Pagan, who declined comment. And Bush shared the stage with such prominent antigay pols as Conservative Party leader Mike Long and State Senate majority leader Joe Bruno.

Since the candidate's press availability in New York was almost nil, I waded through the herd at the cocktail bash to waylay Bush. Clasping his hand, I asked, "Governor, what are you going to do about the sodomy law in Texas?"

"That law is not enforced," he said, looking stricken. "It's not used. Why call attention to it?" But in 1998, Tyrone Garner and John Geddes Lawrence were arrested in Lawrence's Harris County, Texas, home for making love, and Governor Bush is opposing their suit to overturn the 119-year-old Texas sodomy law. In 1994, he vowed to veto any attempt by the legislature to repeal the law, one of five in the U.S. that applies only to same-sex activity (there are 19 overall). And he twice ran on his party's state platform that holds that "the practice of sodomy tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous communicable diseases," not to mention being "contrary to the fundamental, underlying truths that have been ordained by God." The archaic law was also cited prominently by proponents of the Texas bill, supported by Bush, to bar gay people from adopting children. But why call attention to it?

Bush is also not highlighting his record on AIDS. Larry Kramer calls Texas, with the fourth-highest number of U.S. cases, "the worst state in the union for AIDS anything. Don't get sick in Texas." Francisco Sanchez, a gay Democratic official in Texas, says that under Bush, "assistance from the state has dropped dramatically" to Latino AIDS organizations.

Gay protest is now shifting from Gore to Bush. ACT UP was among the 1000 demonstrators picketing Bush's Sheraton event along with prochoice and anti-death-penalty groups. And no matter which Democrat gets nominated, it is more than likely he will raise the issue of gay rights in a debate with the Republican— a first in presidential politics.

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