Barnes was elected Georgia governor in 1998, but lost his bid for a second term to Republican Sonny Perdue in 2002. He was joined at Monday night’s gay Democratic fundraiser by U.S. Senate candidate Michael Thurmond, who serves as Georgia’s labor commissioner; and lieutenant governor candidate Carol Porter.
The event, the party’s second outreach to gay voters in as many weeks, drew a crowd of about 65 gay donors and Democratic Party officials to the terrace of the Peachtree Club, where they mingled while overlooking a stunning view of Midtown.
None of the party officials or candidates discussed gay issues when they took the microphone to solicit donations and urge attendees to help get out the vote for the Nov. 2 election.
But Barnes, Thurmond and Porter took questions from gay reporters during the event, and spoke privately with gay supporters.
Barnes faces Republican Nathan Deal and Libertarian John Monds on the ballot. As a member of the U.S. House, Deal consistently received scores of zero on a congressional scorecard on LGBT issues compiled by the Human Rights Campaign. During the primary, he ran one of the most anti-gay campaigns in recent Georgia history, including attacking an opponent for allegedly supporting YouthPride, which provides support to LGBT young people.
Barnes condemned Deal’s campaign tactics during Monday night’s interview.
“I will tell you this: Whether it is sexual orientation, whether it is women, whether it is some of the derogatory statements that he has had to make on African Americans, I don’t think it is a way that governor should run a campaign and I deplore it,” he said.
Asked if Georgia should have a state employment non-discrimination law that includes sexual orientation along with other protected categories, Barnes declined to state his position on an issue he considers impossible to pass.
“I think that you will never get that passed in Georgia right now so there is no use in burning a bridge before you even get there. I think what we have to do is concentrate on what is accomplishable and that is to encourage folks not to be discriminatory,” Barnes said.
“I was a big advocate as you recall of the hate crimes statute that included any kind of gender orientation discrimination. It was difficult, but we got it passed, and I think those are accomplishable deals,” he said.
Asked about the 2004 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage, Barnes said he did not oppose the measure.
“I voted when I was in the General Assembly that a marriage was between a man and a wife. I was not in the legislature in 2004 and neither was I governor, but I probably would have supported it in all candor,” he said.
The former governor cited economic concerns when asked if Georgia should offer domestic partner benefits to state employees.
“You know, the state health benefits plan is in such a hole that before I could commit to that I would want to see what the financial impact was,” he said.
Thurmond supports civil unions
After serving as Georgia’s Labor Commissioner, Thurmond faces an uphill battle to unseat Sen. Johnny Isakson. The incumbent Republican recently voted against repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” has not co-sponsored any of the pro-gay bills currently pending in Congress, and received a score of 20 out of 100 on the most recent Human Rights Campaign congressional scorecard on LGBT and HIV issues.
Thurmond said during an interview at the fundraiser that he opposes the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban on openly gay service members.
“I am categorically opposed to any type of discrimination, particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation and as the next U.S. senator, I will stand and do and fight however I need to to ensure that that type of discrimination is removed from America and that all citizens are treated equally,” Thurmond said.
The answer appeared somewhat different than what Thurmond said when he was asked about the policy during a debate Sunday sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club.
First, I want to categorically state that I oppose any type of discrimination – particularly discrimination based on sexual orientation. We need to recognize that they are true, brave, loyal Americans who are gay and who make great contributions to this nation,” Thurmond said then.
“But I also, at the end of the day, believe that we should leave this decision to our military commanders. They know best how to lead and how to prepare our military, and I will support their decision on this important and critical issue,” he said.
Asked at the LGBT fundraiser if he would support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to outlaw job bias based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Thurmond suggested he would.
“All citizens should be protected and I will not accept as a citizen or as an elected official, or any authority or capacity I have, discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation race, gender or nationality,” he said. “Discrimination is wrong, it is outlawed by our constitution and I will do everything I can to protect individuals from that type of activity.”
Thurmond said he would oppose attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, and said he supports civil unions for gay couples.
“ I do believe that under present law that marriage is restricted to a man and a woman. But I do believe that people who love each other should be allowed to form civil unions and I encourage that when it happens and when it occurs,” he said.
Porter promises ‘open door’
Porter, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, is attempting to replace GOP incumbent Casey Cagle. She offered few specifics on LGBT issues, although she pledged to have an “open door” to discuss issues like hate crimes legislation and a state law to ban anti-gay employment discrimination, about which she asked, “Is that an issue now?”
Asked why gay voters specifically should support her candidacy, Porter noted that gay people, like all Georgians, should care about issues like corruption, water and transportation.
“Everybody wants to see corruption out of government and the guy that I am running against, Casey Cagle, in my opinion is the most corrupt politician in government now that Glenn Richardson is gone,” Porter said.
She concluded, “Right now what I tell all of my friends that are Democrats is that we have all got to come together under a big tent that’s got ‘the economy’ written all over it. Because if we can’t get this economy turned around, it doesn’t matter who you are or how you self-identify, we are not going to move forward.”
Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, who won her races with strong LGBT support and a solid outline of promises to the community, spoke at the event and said in an interview afterwards that LGBT voters need to back Barnes and the rest of the Democratic ticket even if they disagree with the candidates on some issues.
“[Barnes] is not hateful, he is not spiteful, he recognizes that gay people live in Georgia, that black people live in Georgia, that Latino people live in Georgia and all of us have a right, number one, to decent government, and fair access to the leaders and number two, that we have a right to have our issues discussed,” Franklin said. “So I think he will stand for equality including the gay and lesbian community.”
Top photo: Roy Barnes attended an LGBT Democratic fundraiser Monday night to raise money for his bid to retake the Georgia governor’s mansion. (by Laura Douglas-Brown)