Many in the gay and lesbian community say they have no illusions about where President-elect George W. Bush stands when it comes to issues of gay civil rights.
His record in Texas is clear. During his 1994 campaign for the governorship, Bush defended the state’s sodomy law, which makes sexual activity between same-sex adults illegal, as a “symbolic gesture of traditional values.”
In 1999, it is commonly believed that Bush derailed a Texas hate crimes bill because it included protections based on sexual orientation. Also that year, Bush supported a measure that banned gay couples from becoming foster parents or from adopting foster children.
But the question remains: What impact will the president-elect have on these issues once he moves into the White House?
“The short answer is that it is unclear,” said David Smith, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington. But many, including Smith, say they find Bush’s Texas record and some of his recent picks for his administration’s cabinet, foreboding.
“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 Bush says he believes marriage and raising families should be left to heterosexual couples, Bush made a pledge during the campaign to be tolerant.
“I’ve been a tolerant person all my life,” Bush said during a 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.”
Gays: Cabinet Choices Worrisome
Many leading gay political leaders, in the interesting of trying to work with both parties in the currently high-charged political climate, say they are trying to give Bush the “benefit of the doubt” in the early months of his administration.
Most gay voters are registered Democrats, though Bush did receive 25 percent of the gay vote in this election, according to a survey conducted by Voter News Service for ABCNEWS and other networks. And many Republicans have supported legislation, such as the Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA as it is known, which are considered important measures for protecting the rights of gay people.
And many experts agree that Bush will try to avoid the kind of explosive issue, like the military policy of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ which landed President Clinton in the hot seat for months in the early part of his administration. Bush says he will adhere to the policy, which was created by then-Army Gen.Colin Powell, who is now Bush’s nominee for secretary of state.
Donald Rumsfeld, the nominee for secretary of defense, said that Bush had not discussed the issue with him, and “certainly, the priorities are in other areas for me.”
However, recent appointments by the president-elect to his cabinet have some in the gay and lesbian community concerned. In particular, gay leaders are concerned about the nomination of former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., a staunch conservative whose record in the U.S. Senate is considered by gay activists to be “anti-gay.”