Monday, March 08, 2004

Doug Haines and the Democrat's gay problem

Many of you probably don't know who Doug Haines is. He's a Democrat, running for a seat in Georgia, who is advertising on progressive blogs like Atrios to try to raise money. I had a look-see around his site and here we find this graf in the fairness and equality portion:

"He was endorsed by Georgia Stonewall Democrats. Haines’ work in the Georgia Senate won him the approval of the Stonewall Democrats. He opposes policies that encroach on the privacy of people’s homes and their relationships."

I think it's safe to say that this section is, well, a little closeted. No words signifying gay issues are here. Instead we get references to Stonewall Democrats (is that like San Francisco Democrats?), privacy and people's relationships. This kind of double speak lets Dems know he's a friend of gays, but lets him off the hook from explaining just how he feels about the government role in regulating the institution of marriage, job discrimination against the GLBT community, or any other of a host of issues important to people fighting for gay rights. All we can glean from privacy of people's relationships is that he's against sodomy laws, which have already been struck down in the US Supreme Court. Not exactly a daring position.

The easy counter argument: what the hell did you expect, Isaac, from a Georgia Democrat? Shouldn't you be gracious and understand that he has to speak in code if he's ever going to get elected? Let's get him elected, take back Congress and change the laws, who cares about the rhetoric?

In the short term, these are all good points. And if I was only concerned with electing Democrats in '04, or, indeed, Doug Haines chances of being elected, I'd probably conced the point. But there's a long-term argument that's important, and that is that rhetoric matters. Rhetoric shapes how we view these issues culturally which clearly shapes how we decide these issues legally.

We will never be able to destigmatize queer sexuality if people in positions of privledge don't show leadership on the issue. Why can't the Democrats take some more of that backbone the Dean campaign supposedly lent them and find some way of engaging the electorate on this issue? Politicians pander, of course they do, but we could try collectively trying to lead.

(there's also a side issue of what exactly Doug Haines actually believes-- maybe he's not a big champion of gay rights, but likes the endorsement and likes what'll get him. I have no idea. There's no way to tell from the website and if I'm a Georgia voter I doubt I'm going through the Georgia Senate's minutes to find out what he thinks.)

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