Bush on Gay Rights Issues

"They are screaming about military preparedness, and they are making an issue about sexual orientation?" said the Rev. Michael Piazza, senior pastor of The Cathedral of Hope, a large Dallas church that welcomes gays and lesbians.

Fears Exist, But Willing to Give Bush Benefit of the Doubt

But while Bush may not act on the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy, many gays are worried about his inaction.

"There is a fear that the administration is going to sit on [the issues] and we won't see any movement, said Michael Colby, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, a gay political organization. "The bigger fear is that they will slowly start picking away at the progress we have made."

Though many gays would say the progress for gay rights has been slow, others contend the Clinton administration was the first to tackle the issues, and succeeded by taking small steps forward.

The Clinton administration takes credit for, among other things, supporting the passage of longer sentences for hate crimes, protecting federal workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation, hosting the first White House conference on HIV and AIDS, and appointing a number of gays and lesbians to government positions — including the nation's first openly gay U.S. ambassador [of Luxembourg], James Hormel.

Bush could make some decisions that could have a negative impact on gay rights, gay leaders say, by making changes to executive orders Clinton has already signed. Weiss said Bush will, as a matter of course, review all executive orders — but he has not decided to address any issues in particular.

"I've been a tolerant person all my life," Bush said during a televised debate in October. "I just happen to believe strongly that marriage is between a man and a woman. I don't really think it's any of my concern how you conduct your sex life. That's a private matter. I support equal rights, but not special rights for people."

Bush has insisted he would not discriminate based on sexual preference when it comes to hiring members of his own administration. However, when asked last year if he would hire an openly gay person, Bush told a Charleston, S.C., Christian radio station that "an openly known homosexual is somebody who probably wouldn't share my philosophy."

Weiss said that Bush will choose his administration's employees "based on merit, not sexual preference."

Many gay political leaders say they are trying to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in the early months of his administration.

While most gay voters are registered Democrats, Bush received 25 percent of the gay vote, according to a Voter News Service survey. And many Republicans have supported legislation such as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which are considered important measures for protecting gay rights.

Cabinet Choices Worrisome

However, gay leaders are concerned about the nomination of Ashcroft, a staunch conservative whose record in the U.S. Senate is considered by gay activists to be anti-gay.

When Ashcroft's nomination was announced, the Human Rights Campaign called it "a frightening halt to the moderate tone" of earlier Bush nominations.

Ashcroft was a co-sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed in 1996 which bans federal recognition of gay marriages and prohibits spouses in same-sex marriages from receiving federal benefits.

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