Op-ed: Obama, Clinton, & Gay Marriage: Why We Need More Than Rhetoric

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Photo: U.S. Department of State
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Photo: U.S. Department of State

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Photo: U.S. Department of State

By: Keegan O’Brien*/Special to TRT–

Last week, former Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton released a video officially announcing her support for same-sex marriage, shortly after her husband and former President Bill Clinton did as well, and just months after Obama. The same week several prominent GOP figures  also announced their support for marriage equality.  This all occurred only a week before the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear historic cases challenging Prop 8. and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), in which the Obama Administration has publicly come out on the side of LGBTQ rights.

Compared to President Bill Clinton’s signing of DOMA and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and Bush’s attempt to pass a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, politician’s support for basic civil rights — such as marriage equality — is an enormous advancement for our community. Any time political figures recognize our humanity and advocate the simple idea that we should be treated with respect and dignity, it is welcomed. And, if the Supreme Court rules in favor of equality this week, that will be historic break through in the long struggle for justice.

That said, we deserve — and should demand — much more then rhetorical support from political figures. There’s nothing brave or groundbreaking about politicians embracing same-sex marriage well after a majority of the populations support it. Coming out in support of marriage equality to gain votes, campaign contributions, and further build support for U.S. austerity and militarism is political opportunism, plain and simple. The reason why politicians have recently come out in favor of same sex marriage is a direct result of the enormous pressure and organizing placed on the political establishment by LGBTQ activists. [pullquote]Coming out in support of marriage equality to gain votes, campaign contributions, and further build support for U.S. austerity and militarism is political opportunism, plain and simple. The reason why politicians have recently come out in favor of same sex marriage is a direct result of the enormous pressure and organizing placed on the political establishment by LGBTQ activists.[/pullquote]

Unfortunately, most in the LGBT political establishment have been unwilling to criticize Obama, Clinton or much of the Democratic Party and their tremendous gap between rhetoric and action. No one at the Human Rights Campaign has found it necessary to ask tough questions;  why in a matter of months can the Obama Administration carry out an occupation in Afghanistan and spend billions of tax payer dollars to bail out Wall St., but can’t find the time or energy to prioritize passing an all inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)? Kind words are appreciated,  but when in 29 states it is completely legal to be fired or not hired due to your perceived or known sexual orientation, in 37 states for gender identity or expression, and 37 states have passed constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage, actions speak louder then words.

You wouldn’t know this by watching CNN or listening to anyone in the Obama Administration most of the time, but there is an epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness and suicide.  Every year countless numbers of LGBTQ youth  are kicked out by their families, sleep homeless on the streets, take their own lives, struggle with mental health problems and substance abuse and,  are pushed out of schools that either chose to do nothing, or lack the resources, to address anti-LGBTQ violence and harassment.  

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration has pursued an agenda of budget cuts and austerity, all in the name of “shared sacrifice,” with devastating consequences for working class, poor, and homeless LGBTQ communities. Rather then addressing the epidemic of LGBTQ youth homelessness, Team Obama/Clinton’s agenda of budget cuts have shut down shelters and pushed more youth onto the streets. It’s working class and poor people’s schools that are being closed and their teachers and social workers laid off — disproportionally in poor communities of color, of course.  At a time when anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence are rampant, driving many youth to take their own lives, these austerity measures have lethal consequences to an already horrific problem.

The most offensive part of Hilary Clinton’s video was her audacity to use LGBTQ rights to justify U.S. militarism. According to Clinton, the U.S. must uphold its commitment to human rights in order to remain a beacon of democracy to people around the world. But, what about the 2.5 million Iraqi’s who have become refugees in their own country due to the U.S. invasion and occupation, some of them being LGBTQ? This was a war that Clinton voted for as a senator. Or, what about queer Palestinians victimized by Israeli bombs and Apartheid, bank rolled by the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton? Far from being a promoter of justice and equality, the Obama Administration and Secretary Clinton have been the most egregious offenders in undermining the basic human rights of LGBTQ people globally.

Any meaningful agenda for LGBTQ social justice and equality must address the spectrum of issues facing the LGBTQ community; employment protection, a livable wage, access to health care and other social services, safe schools and housing, a humane immigration system, marriage equality, and a society that puts human need before corporate greed and affirms the humanity of people all across the sexual and gender spectrum. Social justice and equality must be viewed through a global lens. Freedom and equality for LGBTQ people can not be achieved when other queers are living under the brutality of U.S. wars and occupations. Solidarity can’t stop at America’s borders.  

If, in a democracy, politicians are supposed to be accountable to the people they represent, where is the accountability? Institutionalized and systematic oppression is not overcome by donating millions to the political campaigns of Democrats willing to court our votes and money then send us to the back of the line while they pursue what’s profitable for Corporate America and Wall St. Nor, is equality and social justice achieved by lavish invite only banquets and behind the door meetings with politicians and CEO’s. The only way oppressed people have ever won an inch of justice has been through never ending struggle; grassroots protests movements like the Civil Rights and Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s, or the Labor Movement of the 1930’s.  The words of the abolitionist Fredrick Douglass are as true today as they were 150 years ago. [pullquote]If there is no struggle there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.[/pullquote]

If there is no struggle there is no progress. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.

*Keegan O’Brien is a long time LGBTQ youth activist in Boston, anti-war organizer, a student at U Mass Boston, a former board member of BAGLY,  and member of the International Socialist Organization in Boston. He also has written extensively on LGBTQ social justice related issues for SocialistWorker.org and has helped organize the first St.Patrick’s Day Peace and Equality parade.

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