Monday, July 11, 2005

Lugar and Bayh Differ on Gay Civil Rights

Indiana’s two senators, Republican Richard Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh, have much in common. Both are perceived as moderate voices within their respective parties which are currently dominated by extremes. Both were popularly elected, two-term executives prior to their election to the Senate; Lugar served two terms as Indianapolis mayor, while Bayh served two terms as Indiana governor. Both began their political careers at early ages. Lugar was elected mayor at 35, and Bayh was elected Secretary of State at 30. Both were elected to the Senate at relatively young ages; Lugar was elected at 44, and Bayh was elected at 43. And both have presidential aspirations. Senator Lugar ran unsuccessfully for president in 1996 and is planning to seek re-election to an unprecedented sixth term next year. Senator Bayh is laying the groundwork for a likely bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

When it comes to the issue of gay civil rights, however, the two Hoosier politicians are far apart. On the most critical issue before the United States Senate-whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be extended to protect persons on the basis of their sexual orientation-Lugar has consistently opposed the measure which is supported by Bayh. While Bayh’s record is by no means stellar, it is much stronger than Indiana’s senior senator. In classroom grade terms, Bayh would earn a B, while Lugar would earn an F.

To understand Bayh’s and Lugar’s approaches to a delicate issue like gay rights in a very red state such as Indiana, you need to understand their backgrounds. Senator Lugar grew up in well-to-do Indianapolis family which owned a successful manufacturing firm, while Senator Bayh was born into a middle class farm family in west-central Indiana. Senator Lugar has always been a high achiever. The Eagle Scout graduated first in his high school class and college class and was a Rhodes Scholar. He also served in the U.S. Navy as a naval intelligence officer. Senator Bayh is the son of Birch Bayh, a former three-term senator and unsuccessful candidate for president in 1976. After his father’s election to the Senate, Senator Bayh moved with his family to D.C. where he was educated in elite private schools. Viewed as an average student with strong political ambitions, he returned to Indiana to earn his undergraduate degree from Indiana University. Bayh, who earned his law degree from Virginia University, did not serve in the military.

Senator Lugar achieved national attention as Indianapolis’ mayor because of his visionary Uni-Gov plan implemented while he was mayor. He also was widely remembered and applauded for his decision to stand next to Senator Robert Kennedy in a poor, African American neighborhood in Indianapolis in 1968 as Kennedy announced to a shocked crowd news of the assassination of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The actions of Lugar and Kennedy that evening were credited with maintaining peace in the city while other major cities erupted in riots. As mayor, Lugar was perceived as having a strong record on civil rights, although many minorities argued that the true motivation behind Uni-Gov was to minimize the growing minority influence in the old city by expanding the city's borders to the white, suburban neighborhoods.

Lugar lost a very close race for the Senate in 1974 facing Evan’s father, Birch Bayh. A bad year for Republicans in general because of Watergate, Lugar had the added albatross of having being labeled “Richard Nixon’s favorite mayor.” It was also a time when Senator Lugar became the target of a vicious whispering campaign by his political opponents, who privately questioned Lugar’s sexuality. Some rumors had it that Lugar was gay; other rumors described him as a cross-dresser. Always staying below the newspaper pages, the rumors were never taken seriously and certainly never substantiated. Lugar has been happily married for nearly 50 years and has four sons. The sting of those rumors, however, has no doubt played a role in forming Senator Lugar’s public position on gay civil rights. Senator Lugar handily defeated former Indiana Senator Vance Hartke in 1976. He has been re-elected by wide margins in four successive elections, making him the longest serving senator in Indiana history.

Senator Bayh’s father, Birch, was a traditional “tax and spend” liberal who also had an impeccable record on civil rights during his 18 years in the Senate. He favored gay civil rights back in the 1970s to his own political detriment when even most Democrats opposed the idea. Evan has been viewed as being far more conservative than his father. As Indiana governor, he vigorously opposed tax increases, touted Medicaid and welfare reform and boasted balance budgets with record surpluses. Evan carefully avoided any hot button issues, including gay civil rights. Unlike his Democratic and Republican successors, he had no official policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity for state employees during his eight years as governor. Bayh, a married father of twin sons, also carefully avoided the hot button issue when he was first elected to the Senate in 1998.

It is in the Senate where the two have defined themselves on gay rights, and the gulf between them is wide. Senator Lugar has consistently voted against gays on almost every major issue coming before the U.S. Senate. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (“ENDA”), which would expand civil rights protection to include “sexual orientation”, has been introduced in the Senate repeatedly throughout Senator Lugar’s tenure in the Senate; each time Lugar has declined to support it. Lugar supported the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation legalizing the military’s long-time practice of discriminating against gays in 1993. In 1994, Lugar, along with former Indiana Senator Dan Coats, penned a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration opposing the efforts of a gay Indianapolis FAA employee to bring diversity training to the department to help eliminate discrimination of gay employees within the office. Lugar supported the federal Defense of Marriage Act signed into law in 1996 by President Clinton, which prohibits the recognition of same sex marriages.

More recently, Senator Lugar sided with hard line conservatives to end debate in order to permit a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same sex marriages and civil unions. Senator Lugar had been rumored to be among a handful of moderate Republicans who would vote against the procedural motion, but in the end he caved in to heavy pressure from Advance America’s Eric Miller. In 1998, Lugar criticized members of his own party, including then-Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott for their attacks on gays. As reported in a New York Times article by Richard Berke, Lugar said, "I don't believe the party is likely to grow stronger or our voters more numerous through attacks on minorities, whether they be sexual minorities or religious or racial minorities.” Supporters of gay civil rights in Indiana saw this as a signal that Lugar was beginning to shift his position. But their hopes were soon dashed.

Lugar has warmly embraced the anti-gay Eric Miller and his Advance America organization. Lugar offers a video tribute to Miller and Advance America on the organization’s website, where he boasts that he “has worked with Eric Miller for more than 18 years” and describes how he has personally witnessed Advance America’s role in becoming a "powerful voice for families, churches and businesses in Indiana." Lugar continues, “Advance America has played an integral role in educating Hoosiers in preparation for the most important privilege, right and obligation" in reference to voting.

On a more favorable note, the record makes it clear that Lugar personally supports the fair treatment of gays. He has employed a number of openly gay persons on his Senate staff. Bob Kabel, who is openly gay, served as Lugar’s legislative director for five years and is now a senior attorney with Baker & Daniels’ Washington office. He was recently elected as head of the D.C. Republican Party. Lugar just recently adopted a voluntary, non-discrimination policy for his Senate staff at the urging of the Human Rights Campaign (“HRC”), indicating that sexual orientation and gender identity are not factors in his employment decisions. Lugar has also consistently supported enhancement of criminal penalties for hate-based crimes, including those committed against persons because of their sexual orientation, and increased AIDS funding.

By contrast, Senator Bayh opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment and supports ENDA. Senator Bayh voted on the prevailing side against ending debate on the Federal Marriage Amendment, thereby blocking a vote on the amendment. Like Lugar, he supports increased AIDS funding. He too has employed a number of openly gay persons throughout his political career and has adopted a voluntary policy of non-discrimination for his Senate staff. While Bayh has had fewer votes than Lugar since he has served in the Senate for a far shorter time, in the two most recent legislative sessions Senator Bayh scored 100% and 75%, respectively, on gay civil rights issues as scored by HRC. By comparison, Lugar scored only 14% and 13%, respectively, with HRC during the same period.

A more cynical person may conclude that Senator Bayh has shifted his views in favor of gay civil rights in anticipation of his presidential bid. He certainly cannot hope to win primaries in key states like Florida, New York, Illinois and California without the support of this key constituency. Whatever his motivation, it is all good for the advancement of gay civil rights. The real test of his support, however, will come in the heat of a presidential campaign when he is likely to be grilled more intensely on this issue than he has experienced in the past. One cannot forget that President Clinton started out as a strong proponent of gay civil rights. In the end, he left behind the legacy of being the first president in history to sign into law measures which legally permitted discrimination against gays and lesbians, including "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the Defense of Marriage Act.

On the flip side, one might conclude that Senator Lugar has come down squarely against gay civil rights on the most critical issues in order to avoid a primary challenge in his re-election bids, or to keep what little hope alive he may have of someday being elected president. He has never had a close election since his initial election in 1976, and the prospects of the Democrats putting forth serious opposition to his re-election bid next year are dim. The most seriously considered Democratic challenger to his re-election bid, former Representative Tim Roemer, announced last week he would not challenge Lugar.

While it is apparent that Senator Lugar does not embrace the bigoted views of Eric Miller and Advance America towards gays and lesbians, it is extremely disappointing that he has lent the credibility of his good name to Miller and Advance America. Senator Lugar has a long record of achievement on a variety of issues throughout his public record that stand on their own. He doesn’t need Miller’s support for reaffirmation, or to get re-elected. Instead of acting on principle, as is more akin to him, Lugar is acting out of political expediency. That’s going to leave a dark stain on what has otherwise been an exemplary career in public life.


afb said...

I thought this was a very well written piece. I am giving you, even though you're a Republican :), a Hoosier Hat Tip.

best wishes marie

Marla R. Stevens said...

Never forget, however, that Bayh, in the person of his hatchet-woman, Ann Delaney, attempted to keep a gay rights plank out of the state Democratic party platform. Using a dirty trick that had previously succeeded for them in keeping reproductive choice suppressed, the plank simply disappeared -- it was omitted from the printed version of the platform to be presented at the state party convention despite that its inclusion had been voted on by the platform committee at its first meeting and reaffirmed without objection at every subsequent one throughout the state preceding the convention itself.

However, due to the hard work of outraged platform committee members, including ISU Political Science Professor Emeritus Don Shields, and luminaries such as Sens. Vi Simpson and Billie Breaux, as well as activists that included Bob Dion and the entire legislative and political policy working groups of LGBT Fairness Indiana, the necessary petition signatures were obtained to right this wrong (a difficult feat previously thought impossible by many experienced pols) and the plank prevailed, to be routinely renewed to this day.