As someone who had the misfortune of being 17 years old at the time of the 2008 presidential primaries, I have never been able to vote in a presidential primary before. After all, in the 2012 Election, there was not a single non-homophobic Republican candidate to vote for by the time that the primaries took place. So for me, the 2016 presidential primaries have a great deal of personal significance. Yet I have been disappointed in some ways with how the primaries have shaped up. The Republican primary is filled with bigots. Not a single one supports the principle of equality under the law. The Democratic primary has the better offering, but the party machine decided at some point that there shouldn’t be a real primary and that it would be better to just give Hillary Clinton the nomination ASAP, perhaps because this worked out so well when they did it with Al Gore. After all, Gore managed to win the presidency–oh wait. Ergo, we ended up with only five total Democratic primary candidates, two of whom dropped out quite a while ago. One of those two Democrats, Jim Webb was a Neo-Confederate, a homophobe, and a sexist, embodying some of the worst aspects of the party’s history. So many people who would have been a wonderful choice for the nomination never ran, probably because the machine intimidated them into not doing so.
Once all of the original five Democratic candidates had entered the race, I had some difficulty choosing between my two favorites. One of these two was former Rhode Island Senator and Governor Lincoln Chafee. Chafee, along with the individual I am about to endorse, had the best record of any of the candidates on gay rights. And his fiscal policy, while certainly more liberal than what I would prefer, was not exactly far-left. Unfortunately, Chafee’s campaign picked up virtually no traction, to the point that some polls showed him with 0% support. This was a key factor in my decision to endorse … Bernie Sanders. This decision may strike some of my readers as strange. My fiscal views are legitimately conservative. For example, I oppose national health insurance, anti-trust legislation, stricter campaign finance laws, and rent control and favor making Social Security voluntary and privatizing Medicare and Medicaid. I also believe that in most cases, businesses should be allowed to replace striking workers. I also am well to the Right of Sanders on gun control and am mortified by his proposal to team up with repressive nations such as Russia to combat ISIS. However, I am the dreaded single issue voter. I select candidates based on their support for equal rights and eschewing of bigotry. Sanders’s gay rights record rivals that of Lincoln Chafee, exceeds that of Martin O’Malley, and easily outstrips that of Hillary Clinton. It is difficult to compare it with Jim Webb’s record, given just how bad Jim Webb’s record is for a twenty-first century Democrat. It is true that Sanders did not, claims to the contrary notwithstanding, support full equality for gay people at the beginning of his career. He has, however, always been ahead of the curve. He did begin offering limited support for LGBT rights as far back as the 1970s. As Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he signed legislation to prevent anti-gay discrimination in the housing market. As a Congressman and Senator, his views continued moving to the Left, and he continued to outperform the heavy majority of his colleagues. In 1993, he voted against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and in 1996, he was one of less than 20% of Representatives to vote against DOMA. He has voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and cosponsored the Student Non-Discrimination Act to prevent discrimination against LGBT youth in schools. And in 2009, he publicly endorsed marriage equality. Now six years ago does not seem like a particularly long time ago. However, it is important to consider how different the politics of gay marriage were back then. Hillary Clinton did not support gay marriage until 2013. Barack Obama and Joe Biden did not support it until 2012. Even Martin O’Malley did not consistently favor it until 2011. According to an analysis by Dylan Matthews, as recently as 2011, only fifteen Senators supported marriage equality–and this was in a time when Democrats controlled the Senate. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton originally favored DOMA and as recently as 2007 supported modifying rather than repealing it. So Sanders’s support, while not as forthcoming as someone like John Lewis, Ron Wyden, Nancy Pelosi, or Russ Feingold, is still quite ahead of the curve. Sanders’ website sums up his views on LGBT rights thus: “As President, Sen. Sanders will:
Sign into law the Equality Act, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, and any other bill that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people.
Work with HHS to ensure LGBT Americans have access to comprehensive health insurance which provides appropriate coverage and do not have to fear discrimination or mistreatment from providers.
Continue the great work of the State Department’s Special Envoy for LGBT Rights and ensure the United States helps protect the rights of LGBT people around the world.
Advance policies to ensure students can attend school without fear of bullying, and work to reduce suicides.
Require police departments to adopt policies to ensure fairer interactions with transgender people, especially transgender women of color who are often targeted by police unfairly, and institute training programs to promote compliance with fair policies.
Bar discrimination against LGBT people by creditors and banks so that people will not be unfairly denied mortgages, credit cards, or student loans.
Veto any legislation that purports to ‘protect’ religious liberty at the expense of others’ rights.”
Sanders is also a champion of racial equality. He was a member of the civil rights organization, SNCC, and an active participant in the movement, being arrested for civil disobedience against segregation and marching with MLK. While I believe that many of his proposed economic solutions are counterproductive, he has continued to show a keen interest in the problems that African Americans face and an awareness of the continued presence of racism. I also commend him for cosponsoring legislation to ban racial profiling. He has also called for increased civil rights protections for women and greater tribal sovereignty for Native Americans, as well as acknowledging the suffering that our country’s indigenous people have experienced. He has also gone on the attack against Trump’s noxious anti-immigrant racism.
As an added bonus, I would actually argue that Sanders is the most libertarian of the Democratic contenders and that on many issues, his polices are actually more libertarian than the Republicans. Since most libertarians are against state-imposed discrimination against gay people and racial minorities, they should applaud his record on these issues. Furthermore, Sanders has:
- Consistently opposed the Patriot Act
- Opposes warrantless wiretapping
- Voted against legislation to ban flag desecration
- Opposes executions by the State
- Supports legalizing marijuana
- Supports decreasing military spending
- Voted against the Iraq War
- Voted against providing taxpayer money to incompetent bankers at the start of the Recession
- Voted to end draft registration and cosponsored legislation to end forced draft registration of Americans except in national emergencies
- Voted to allow guns in checked bags on Amtrak trains, to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds by international organizations that require U.S. citizens to register their guns, and to impose one-day rather than three-day waiting periods for gun purchases. He also opposes unfair attempts to sue gun store owners for shootings.
In short, anyone who is concerned about promoting equal rights, fighting discrimination, or defending civil liberties in general, should back Bernie Sanders for president.