Campaign strategist James Carville’s tagline for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential race has been a political catchphrase ever since.
“It’s about the empathy, stupid.”
That’s the headline Slate.com writer Dalia Lithwick used to sum up the importance of President Barack Obama’s May 2012 announcement that he had come to personally support same-sex marriage.
“It’s our equality, stupid.”
Obama: Personally supports marriage equality. Instructed the Justice Department to stop defending court challenges to the federal law that denies recognition to gay marriages.
Romney: Pledges to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage.
‘DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL’
Obama: Successfully fought for repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” allowing lesbians and gay men to now serve openly in the U.S. military.
Romney: During the GOP primary, said he would not repeal DADT during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Has since indicated he would not work to reinstate the law.
EMPLOYMENT NON-DISCRIMINATION ACT
Obama: Supports the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and has extended similar protections for LGBT federal workers.
Romney: As a U.S. Senate candidate in 1994, Romney said he would co-sponsor ENDA, but has since said he opposes ENDA because it would “unfairly penalize employers at the hands of activist judges.”
Given all that Obama has accomplished on LGBT rights in his first term, that may be the best way to explain why LGBT voters need to turn out to vote for Obama on Nov. 6 — even in red states like Georgia that are likely to go for Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
“President Obama has improved the lives of LGBT Americans more than any president in history,” the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT political group, said in its endorsement of Obama. “In 2008 we were promised change and profound change is what we got.”
Indeed, the list of Obama’s accomplishments on LGBT issues would have been unimaginable for any other president. The president pushed for and signed into law two major items on the national gay political agenda: the LGBT-inclusive Matthew Shepard & James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
He instructed the Justice Department to stop defending court challenges against the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and in May personally came out for marriage equality.
He also made major strides on LGBT issues that didn’t earn as many mainstream headlines, from requiring hospital visitation for LGBT partners to creating guidelines to protect transgender federal employees from job discrimination.
No LGBT reason to vote for Romney
That’s not to say some gay Republicans won’t vote for Romney: In 2008, 27 percent of self-identified gay voters told exit pollsters they voted for GOP presidential nominee John McCain, though skeptics note the small sample size had a relatively large margin of error.
But in this election, even the gay Republicans who back Romney aren’t using LGBT issues to explain their support.
Instead, Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of gay conservative group GOProud, argues Romney has a better economic plan.
“Many gay Americans simply do not have the luxury to make gay marriage their number one issue. Many gay Americans — like their straight counterparts — simply cannot afford four more years of Barack Obama,” LaSalvia said in an Oct. 16 press release.
The Log Cabin Republicans, the other national gay GOP organization, issued a belated endorsement of Romney Oct. 23, while actually acknowledging that Obama is the better candidate on gay issues.
“If LGBT issues are a voter’s highest or only priority, then Gov. Romney may not be that voter’s choice. However, Log Cabin Republicans is an organization representing multifaceted individuals with diverse priorities,” the endorsement states.
Log Cabin leaders said they believe they can work with Romney on ENDA (perhaps because he was for it before he was against it: running for U.S. Senate in 1994, he told LCR’s Massachusetts chapter he would co-sponsor ENDA, then changed his stance in later races).
As for Romney’s noxious pledge to support a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Log Cabin leaders essentially said they don’t think he will follow through, noting, “there is a significant difference between a valid threat and an empty promise made to a vocal but shrinking constituency.”
It’s the economy, too
GA Voice doesn’t presume to analyze each candidate’s economic plans; our expertise is LGBT issues. But it is worth noting that many of the LGBT rights initiatives backed by Obama and opposed by Romney have a direct economic impact for LGBT Americans.
Military service offers a path to skilled job training and a college education for thousands of middle class and lower-income Americans; repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” means gay people can take advantage of this economic benefit.
The Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which Obama supports and Romney opposes, would protect LGBT workers from facing economic disaster due to a bigoted employer.
Likewise, the stark contrast between Obama and Romney on gay marriage represents a huge difference on both equality and economics, as being able to legally marry would have dramatic economic benefits for same-sex couples.
The list includes being able to inherit a spouse’s property without additional taxation, being able to cover a spouse on health benefits without extra taxation, being able to receive Social Security survivor benefits, avoiding legal fees to try to recreate a portion of the benefits that come with an inexpensive marriage license, and many more.
Your vote counts
The winner of the popular vote gets all 15 of Georgia’s electoral college votes, which really elect the president, and it’s all but certain that Romney will win the Peach State.
A poll conducted Oct. 8-12 by Abt SRBI Inc. for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that of 706 likely voters, 51 percent planned to cast their ballots for Romney, while 43 percent supported Obama.
But with 5 percent undecided and a margin of error of 5.3 percent, it is still possible that the race could be close. And even though Georgia’s electoral college votes are awarded all-or-nothing, the spread still matters.
The Williams Institute, a think tank, extrapolates from the 2010 Census to estimate Georgia’s LGBT population at 340,000, according to Georgia Equality’s Jeff Graham.
To put that in perspective, in the 2008 presidential race, John McCain won Georgia with 52.2 percent of the vote, gaining 204,792 more votes than Obama.
If LGBT voters turn out to help fuel a strong showing for Obama in Georgia, we can send a powerful message even if he doesn’t win the state: We show that candidates who support LGBT equality can still be viable here, and we prove that LGBT citizens can be a voting block worthy of attention from candidates from the top of the ballot on down.
So regardless of who gets Georgia’s electoral college votes, your ballot matters.
If LGBT equality matters to you, cast it for President Obama on Nov. 6.
Top photo: President Barack Obama will likely lose Georgia to Republican Mitt Romney, but casting your vote for the man Newsweek dubbed America’s ‘first gay president’ still matters. (Obama official portrait, Romney publicty photo by Gage Skidmore)