Guest editorial: What’s at stake for the LGBT community in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race

We support Michelle Nunn for U.S. Senate because the choice in this  election is crystal clear. We have the opportunity to choose between  electing a progressive leader who has expressed her support for issues  important to the LGBT community (Nunn) or sitting on our hands and our wallets and risking the election of yet another ultra-conservative  candidate who holds anti-gay views and who will never support federal  legislation that is vital to the health, security, and well-being of LGBT Georgians (David Perdue).

There’s a lot at stake in this election for all Georgians, including those of us in the LGBT community. Let’s look at the facts and compare the candidates.

• Nunn supports the passage of a fully-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect LGBT Georgians from discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. With no state law protecting us from employment discrimination, this legislation arguably would provide the most significant benefits to the largest number of LGBT Georgians. Nunn’s opponent opposes this legislation. And more importantly, if the Democrats lose their majority in the Senate, the GOP majority leaders have vowed that ENDA will never even come to a vote despite broad bipartisan support.

• Nunn also will support other pro-LGBT legislation, such as a comprehensive LGBT civil rights act that, if introduced, would protect LGBT Georgians against discrimination in housing and public accommodations, as well as legislation that improves safety for kids in school, provides additional protections for LGBT families, and will continue funding for the Ryan White Program that is desperately needed by people living with HIV/AIDS here in Georgia.

• Nunn sought and obtained the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign, a rigorous process that considers both a candidate’s positions on LGBT federal legislative initiatives and viability.

• Democratic control of the judicial approval process is critical, as several Supreme Court justices face potential retirement while President Obama is still in office. (Justice Ginsburg is 81, Justices Scalia and Kennedy are both 78, and Justice Breyer is 76.) Without a Democrat majority in the Senate, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to confirm more progressive nominees to the court who will be making decisions about important civil rights issues for the LGBT community.

• Nunn’s election likely would help pave the way for the nomination and confirmation of more progressive federal judges here in Georgia. With no senator from the majority party, Georgia has lagged behind in filling open judicial seats in our federal courts, and the Republican incumbents have blocked or delayed progressive nominees supported by the president. In fact, the most recent slate of nominees to the federal bench in Georgia was a compromise between the two Republican senators and the White House, and included Michael Boggs, a former Republican state legislator who voted to ban same-sex marriage in Georgia, to keep the Confederate insignia on the Georgia flag and to impose greater restrictions on access to women’s reproductive health issues. Election of a Democratic senator would represent a vast improvement.

• The statement recently issued by Nunn’s campaign clarifying her views about marriage equality are consistent with what we have always understood them to be. Nunn confirmed that she supports marriage equality for everyone and voted against the Georgia anti-marriage constitutional amendment. She opposes any law, such as DOMA, that restricts the right for all people to get married, and as a senator she would vote to strike down any such laws that are not declared unconstitutional by the courts. Perdue, on the other hand, believes that only marriages between a man and a woman should be recognized. That’s a big difference.

• Nunn has been very consistent about her personal, long-standing support for LGBT equality, and she trumps her opponent on other issues that many LGBT people care about – like access to affordable health care, women’s issues, economic justice, and an increase in the minimum wage. She also has strong positions on immigration and education.

The alternative to electing a pro-equality Senator in Michelle Nunn is to allow David Perdue, an anti-gay conservative candidate to become our  next U.S. senator from Georgia. Despite running on a so-called “pro-business” ticket, Perdue is an unabashed extremist who supports Georgia’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and wants to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Perdue has defended Georgia’s refusal to expand Medicaid denying healthcare to a significant number of Georgia’s poorest people, including the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community, including a majority of people living with HIV.

We’re certainly aware a debate has developed within the LGBT community as to whether Nunn’s campaign has gone far enough in public statements about marriage equality to earn the votes of the LGBT community. That issue is important to us too, and we’re here to say that based on her positions
on marriage equality and other issues as outlined above, she has earned our support.

But for those who feel Nunn’s public statements may not go far enough, we would suggest that this U.S. Senate race should not be decided on any one-issue because a great deal hangs in the balance. In our experience, most people, including LGBT people, are not single issue voters. We’re interested in a whole range of issues that also help distinguish Nunn’s candidacy from that of her Republican rival. To suggest that LGBT Georgians should refuse to vote for Nunn, or offer only tepid support over this one issue risks losing the election of an otherwise strong ally.

To throw away all that our community would gain from Nunn’s election just to prove a point is short-sighted. If we hope to elect fair-minded, qualified pro-equality Democratic candidates to statewide office in Georgia, we should not have a single litmus test or “one size fits all” policy when it comes to every issue involving our community. Who among us held candidate Obama to a single issue litmus test in 2008? And where might we be today if progressives had done so?

While we (and Ms. Nunn, according to her campaign’s own statement) believe there is a federal constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry, we must also understand that many Americans and Georgians are still on a journey with respect to their opinion about marriage for same-sex couples. It’s our job to further educate our straight allies and not make perfect the enemy of the good. The LGBT community in Georgia must make a strategic decision in this race by asking ourselves a basic question, “What’s in our enlightened best interest?” and then vote on the facts, not on rhetoric.

For us, here’s the bottom line. Michelle Nunn is a world apart from her opponent. If you still question which candidate is on the side of full equality then take the time to understand the dramatic differences in the policy positions of Michelle Nunn and David Perdue when it comes to our community. They are significant.

If political pundits are correct, this critical election will be decided by razor-thin margins. To win in Georgia, Nunn will require the full support of a broad coalition of progressive and moderate Georgia voters, including LGBT voters and our allies.

We can oppose Nunn based on a rigid view of a single issue or we can champion her candidacy, work hard to support a strong ally and get her elected for the entirety of her policy positions. Make no mistake, there is a clear choice in this election — join us in working to elect Michelle Nunn to the U.S. Senate.


State Representative Simone Bell, District 58
Ken Britt, former Co-Chair of HRC Board, Co-Chair of Georgia Equality, and Chair of AID Atlanta
Corey T. Boone, President, Young Democrats of Georgia
Lawrie Demorest, attorney, former Co-Chair of HRC Board and HRC Foundation
State Representative Karla Drenner, District 85
Glen Paul Freedman, Chair of Georgia Equality Board, and Chair of the Atlanta Pride Committee
Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, District 6
Michael Grover, attorney, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Board
LeeAnn Jones, attorney, Jerusalem House Board, former member HRC Board
Amy Morris and Dr. Melanie Thompson
Ed Patterson, HRC Board of Governors
Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan, District 6