The Original Gang of 14: Honoring the Senators Who Voted “Nay” on DOMA, Part 2

And now, for the other 7 courageous Senators who opposed the Defense of Marriage Act.

8. Bob Kerrey: Kerrey’s story is in some ways like Inouye’s from a different generation. A Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War, Kerrey became both the recipient and the dispenser of double entendres due to a war injury that necessitated amputating the lower part of one of his legs. But unlike Inouye, who represented the liberal state of Hawaii, Kerrey represented Nebraska, a state that voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004. Still, trapped between the homophobic Devil and the deep red river (Nebraska, after all, has no seas,) Kerrey showed just as much courage as he had in the military and voted against DOMA. In 2012, Kerrey unsuccessfully attempted to regain his old Senate seat, and in this election, he confirmed what most people had suspected and announced his support for gay marriage.

9. John Kerry: Kerry had advocated for gay rights reforms since joining the Senate. Still, out of all the Senators on this list, Kerry probably ended up being the most cowardly. Like Feinstein, he would disavow any support for gay marriage when casting his “nay” vote. However, Kerry’s cowardice would go far beyond that. To my knowledge, Kerry is the only of the 14 “no on DOMA” Senators who would later claim his vote had been a mistake. In 2004, Kerry claimed that he had been incorrect to label DOMA unconstitutional. Of course, some years after losing the election to George W. Bush, Kerry would once again change positions and support gay marriage. In essence, Kerry has been a friend to gay Americans through thin but not so much through thick. Still, it is hard to dispute that in his heart, Kerry believes in equal rights.

10. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Despite being a longtime Democratic Senator from the liberal stronghold of New York, Moynihan was always fairly popular among conservatives. The main reason for this is that while serving as an assistant secretary of labor in the 1960s, Moynihan gained notoriety for claiming that the Johnson Administration’s liberal welfare policies were leading to fewer two-parent homes. Orson Scott Card, a science fiction writer who vehemently opposes gay rights labeled himself a “Moynihan Democrat.” However, Moynihan  joined Senators like Ted Kennedy, Daniel Inouye, and Lowell Weicker to introduce gay rights legislation in the 1980s, and in 1996, he was the only Senator to vote both against DOMA and in favor of passing a ban on partial birth abortion over Clinton’s veto. Moynihan died in 2001, before legalizing gay marriage was widely discussed by politicians at the national level, and conservatives would later attempt to quote his writings about two-parent homes while opposing gay marriage. However, his wife, Elizabeth, stated her belief that Moynihan would have favored gay marriage.

11. Claiborne Pell: Less well known than the Pell Grants that bear his name, the senior Rhode Island Senator was 77 years old when DOMA came up for a vote, making him the oldest Senator to vote against the bill. He was also perhaps the most eccentric, being a firm believer in the paranormal and wearing threadbare suits along with his much bulkier father’s belt that had to wrapped around his waist twice in order to make it fit. While Pell was a reliable supporter of civil rights for other minorities, the issue of gay rights was exceptionally personal to him. In 1972, rumors circulated that he had been arrested in a raid on a gay bar. In 1981, his openly gay close friend and former campaign manager, Raymond Nels Nelson was murdered in Washington, D.C., prompting Pell to eulogize him on the Senate floor the following day. 1981 marked the beginning of a decade-and-a-half of gay rights advocacy. In 1993, he helped Roberta Achtenberg become the first openly gay federal appointee to be confirmed by the Senate by speaking of his gay daughter. In 1996, Pell had decided not to run for re-election and ended his thirty-six year career in the Senate by defending the rights of his daughter and honoring the memory of his old friend through voting against DOMA.

12. Chuck Robb: The son-in-law of Lyndon Johnson and Virginia’s junior Senator in 1996, Robb was the only Senator representing a former Confederate state who voted against DOMA. He was also almost certainly the most moderate on political issues overall. His “liberal” rating from Americans for Democratic Action sometimes went as low as 60%. He voted for every portion of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” conservative wish list and in favor of the first Gulf War. However, Robb also demonstrated that he was not simply a typical conservative Democrat. After having cosponsored the Boxer Amendment in 1993, Robb publicly stated, “I feel very strongly that this legislation is wrong. Despite its name, the Defense of Marriage Act does not defend marriage against some imminent, crippling effect. Although we have made huge strides in the struggle against discrimination based on gender, race, and religion, it is more difficult to see beyond our differences regarding sexual orientation. The fact that our hearts don’t speak in the same way is not cause or justification to discriminate.” According to Robb, Barbara Boxer herself warned him not to oppose DOMA, fearing it would destroy his political career. Still, Robb would not be deterred. In all probability, though Boxer’s encouragement to vote for DOMA was wrong, her prediction that Robb’s “nay” vote would destroy his political career was probably correct. Robb lost his next bid for re-election to George Allen, making him the only incumbent Democrat to lose his Senate seat in the 2000 elections. This was probably due in no small part to his support for gay rights as well as his opposition to a ban on flag desecration.

13. Paul Simon: Not to be confused with the singer from Simon and Garfunkel, the senior Senator from Illinois and 1988 Democratic primary candidate for president, Simon was at times described as a traditional Democrat. The truth is that Simon, like many other Northern Democrats who began their political careers in the 1950s, departed strongly from the Democratic Party’s traditional support for the supremacy of heterosexual white men. Perhaps this is why Simon wrote a book about President Abraham Lincoln rather than President Andrew Jackson. And as Simon voted against DOMA in the last year of his last term in the Senate, Simon imitated the 1864 Abraham Lincoln who favored a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery rather than the 1860 Lincoln who favored banning slavery in new states while allowing it to exist in the South. Two months before his death in 2003, he published a book called “Our Culture of Pandering,” perhaps having DOMA in mind.

14. Ron Wyden: Wyden was the most recently elected Senator to vote against DOMA, having won a special election to replace Robert Packwood as an Oregon Senator less than seven months earlier. Packwood was a powerful five-term Senator who had been forced to resign in disgrace after being exposed as a sexual predator. Wyden had no desire to keep a low profile in either his Senate campaign or his first year in the chamber. He became the first Senator to publicly support gay marriage and gave a speech denouncing DOMA on libertarian grounds, calling the bill “Big Brother to the core.” Now in his fourth Senate term, Wyden recently applauded a judge’s decision to strike down Oregon’s ban on gay marriage, writing, “Judge Michael McShane’s decision marks a significant moment in Oregon’s civil rights history, and it’s an important step toward equal rights for all Americans. Every American deserves the freedom to marry the person they love, and, starting today, all Oregonians will have that choice. I am proud to have stood with Oregon’s same-sex couples in this struggle for marriage equality for nearly 20 years, and it’s important to keep pushing until that right extends to all Americans.”

 

 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Original Gang of 14: Honoring the Senators Who Voted “Nay” on DOMA, Part 2

  1. Great post- I am ashamed I didn’t come across your blog until you began commenting on mine. The list of 14 nay votes is fascinating…some names are expected from civil liberties guru Russ Feingold to Dianne Feinstein, who knew Harvey Milk. But the most surprising member of this gang was Bob Kerrey!

    • Don’t sweat it, I’m just glad we’ve found each other’s blogs now! And I’m also very glad you like this post. I agree Kerrey was pretty surprising, and I honestly wonder if his “nay” vote helped motivate his decision not to run for re-election in 2000. It may be that he felt his position on DOMA had angered too many voters.

  2. Pingback: The Original Gang of 14: Honoring the Senators Who Voted “Nay” on DOMA, Part 2 | Todd DeanTodd Dean

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