Who should win a contest between logic and perceived solidarity? Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) argues for the former value, and he has a good point:
The campaign for Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District has received a significant amount of national attention this cycle, in large part because Richard Tisei, the challenger in the race, could become the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. Tisei received a nice boost in February, when the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund endorsed him despite the fact that incumbent Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) has an exceptionally strong record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
The race has presented LGBT advocates with a dilemma that a few years ago might have seemed too good to be true: Support an openly gay Republican candidate who could perhaps help convince his colleagues to evolve on equality, or stay with a Democratic congressman who is straight but has been a stalwart on these issues?
On Capitol Hill Wednesday evening, a group of Democratic and LGBT donors came together to make the case that the latter was still the best option for the gay community.
As the Washington Blade reported last month, two of former Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-Mass.) staffers organized Wednesday’s fundraiser for Tierney, in large part to “blunt” the Victory Fund’s endorsement of Tisei.
Frank, who attended the event, did not hesitate to criticize the Victory Fund’s decision.
“I do believe it is very important to support gay and lesbian candidates. But the notion that we will tell an incumbent who has been absolutely perfect on gay, lesbian, bisexual [and] transgender issues — absolutely perfect — that perfection will do no good because he has sex with the wrong person, is the antithesis of what we should be fighting for,” said Frank, referring to the fact that the Victory Fund is dedicated to electing LGBT candidates.
There is also the argument that while Tisei supports marriage equality, he remains a member of a party that, with rare exceptions, still regards members of the LGBT community as third- or fourth-class citizens, a party whose base still regards gays and lesbians as demon-possessed hedonists, a party whose most prominent media voices are unified in their rejection of LGBT equality as political correctness run amok.
Another strike against Tisei: his support for House Speaker John Boehner.
Attendees and speakers all argued that while Tisei may agree with some of the policy goals of the LGBT community, he would still caucus with Republicans and help Boehner remain in charge of the chamber. (Tisei recently told The Washington Post he would be open to voting for Boehner.)
Frank called [former House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, “a wholehearted advocate” of LGBT rights. Boehner, meanwhile, “has been one of the most effective opponents of LGBT rights,” he said.
Boehner has earned the ire of the LGBT community because he has refused to bring up ENDA, which would bar workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The act passed the Senate last year in a bipartisan vote, and many advocates believe it could pick up enough GOP support in the House to pass as well — if only Boehner would let it receive a vote.
Boehner also spent millions in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages, after the Justice Department said it was unconstitutional and would no longer do so.
“Some people have said, ‘Why aren’t you supporting a gay candidate?'” said Peter Rosenstein, an attendee at Wednesday’s event who said he was an enthusiastic Tierney backer. “I think there’s a lot more to it than that, because if Richard Tisei comes in, his first vote is for John Boehner, which eliminates all the things he says he wants to do.”
“It’s almost like a Pyrrhic victory here,” said Michael Scott, another attendee. “We have a gay Republican, but he’s supporting an incredibly right-wing agenda and a speaker who’s frankly cowardly because his caucus is so skewed now toward the right wing.”
If Tisei loses, he will only have his party to blame: the GOP’s reputation in the Northeast did not become abhorrent by accident. Tisei insists that he can move his party towards reason on LGBT issues, but what are the odds of that happening anytime soon?
Tierney, who campaigned against DOMA in 1996, was skeptical about whether Tisei would actually be an agent for change, even within his own caucus.
“You’re not going to change [House Republicans’] mind,” said Tierney. “You know the people we’re talking about. They’re pretty extreme.”
The fact that Tisei is being backed by the US Chamber of Commerce also suggests that Tisei would not legislate as an independent-minded Republican if elected. Perhaps we’ll hear some more Frank assessments of the candidate as this high-profile race goes on–assessments that Tisei will try to disparage, assessments with which voters might not disagree.