The Backward Trio Must Go

Events in the past six months or so have convinced me that I was probably overly pessimistic about the amount of time it would take for the Gay Rights Movement to achieve its goals. One event that truly shocked me was when I discovered that bit by bit, as more and more Senators switched positions, we had managed to get a Senate majority for marriage equality. We have 50 Democrats, two Republicans, and two independents who support the legalization of gay marriage. As of this writing, there are only three Democrats left in the Senate who do not support gay marriage: Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor, and Joe Manchin. Landrieu has stated point blank that she personally supports gay marriage but has to honor the will of the majority in Louisiana, which opposes it. For all practical purposes, this means she opposes gay marriage. Now, as far as Mary Landrieu goes, she is showing flagrant cowardice, but she is only doing it more blatantly than a lot of politicians. Olympia Snowe of a socially tolerant blue state was decent on other gay rights issues but didn’t announce she supported same-sex marriage until just a few days ago, a few months after leaving office. I suppose there’s a chance she had an honest change of heart that just happened to come shortly after she left office–a .0005% chance. Bill Clinton now says he supports same-sex marriage, but he left us with DOMA. However, I am a little bit taken aback by just how open Landrieu is that she is pandering to bigoted voters. In essence, she is saying, “I know discrimination is wrong. But I want to keep my job, so I’m going to pander to those who think discrimination is right, because my political career is more important than people’s civil rights.” I would really love to know if she has any limits to her, “Go with the voters” policy. Would she support segregation if the majority of her supporters wanted it? Slavery? Mark Pryor has described himself as an evangelical Christian, and it is well-documented that he opposed a repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” until as little as a month before the final vote on the legislation. He also stated during that time that homosexuality was a sin. And Manchin was the lone Democrat to vote against the final repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” He, more even than Landrieu or Pryor, has been a thorn in the side to gay people in much the same way as his predecessor, Robert Byrd, was. It is certainly possible that these three Senators will change their stances. After all, just a few days ago, Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota was one of the “Final Four” Democrats opposed to marriage equality. But now, he has changed positions, causing me to refer to the group as the “Backward Trio” instead. However, I think that these three individuals will remain opposed to gay marriage for quite a while. As referenced earlier, Landrieu has basically said her actions are entirely dictated by majority opinion in her state, and Pryor and Manchin both have altogether too much of the Christian Coalition in them. So what is to be done with these three hold-outs? I propose that the Democratic Party refuse to support any of them in their bids for re election. Instead, the party should find three pro-equality candidates to run as independents. Given the fact that West Virginia, Louisiana, and Arkansas are all fairly conservative states–though each of them have some liberals–these three candidates should have moderate stances on many other policy issues. I believe that it is possible for these candidates to win if the vote is split relatively evenly three ways. In liberal Maine, socially conservative Tea Partier Paul LePage became governor with less than forty percent of the popular vote. Why? Because the sixty percent or so of Maine voters who lean left split their votes between an independent and a Democrat. I believe it is very likely that Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas all have a large enough minority of same-sex marriage supporters to make this goal a reality, so long as the pro-gay marriage candidates appeal to them on other issues. If only people with over fifty percent of the popular vote won elections, we would probably not have abolished slavery when we did. Abraham Lincoln won the presidency in a four-way contest, garnering under forty percent of the vote. The majority of the country was unwilling to put even a moderately antislavery president in power, but one was put into power nonetheless due to vote splitting. There is a very good chance that the end result of my endeavor will simply be that there are three more Republicans in the Senate. However, it will mean that the Democratic Party is no longer culpable by virtue of supporting bigoted, cowardly candidates. Furthermore, without Pryor, Manchin, and Landrieu, we will still have a majority of Senators in support of same-sex marriage, and the continue presence of these three would still not give the magical sixty votes needed to break a filibuster in gay rights-related debates. Hence, there is no compelling reason to continue supporting the Backward Trio in hopes that they may some day change their minds or because their support is crucial to other gay rights bills. Furthermore, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Nevada, and North Dakota are all states where one Senator supports gay marriage, and the other does not. This indicates that it is feasible to elect another pro-gay marriage Senator in these states (as opposed to, say, Georgia, where it really would not be.) If this were done successfully, it would allow us to boot Pryor, Landrieu, and Manchin and still have a filibuster-proof majority for equal rights AND mean that all the Senate Democrats were united in support. Finally, the threat of losing the backing of Democratic leadership might be enough to frighten the Backward Trio into doing the right thing.

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