Even if the major party presidential hopefuls don’t float your boat, there are good reasons not to go with the third- Party’s Bob Barr and Green Party’s Cynthia McKinney. Photo Credit: Bob Barr for President and Cynthia McKinney for President
Not buying into the Log Cabin schtick that John McCain and Sarah Palin are “a different kind of Republican?” Convinced you are settling if you back Barack Obama despite his opposition to gay marriage?
There’s always “a third way.” Or, in the case of this presidential cycle, a third and a fourth way. The Greens and the Libertarians have nominated their own White House hopefuls and both parties adopted platforms that back full marriage equality for same-sex couples.
That single fact alone means their nominees merit a look-see from LGBT voters, but do they really offer meaningful alternatives to the Big Two?
It’s a weird twist of fate this year that both the Green and Libertarian nominees for president hail from Metropolitan Atlanta, long a gay mecca in the wilderness of the Bible Belt. But Cynthia McKinney, the Green candidate, and Bob Barr, the Libertarian, have decidedly mixed histories on LGBT issues and gay voters.
McKinney amassed one of the strongest LGBT records in her six terms of Congress. There she represented DeKalb County, an area long popular with white and black gay Atlantans. Even so, her stubborn association with some ardent gay rights foes earned the ire of many constituents.
First and foremost there’s her own father, Billy McKinney, who introduced legislation and even sued to block domestic partner benefits, although he conveniently saw the light later when gay supporters were among the few white voters who stood by Cynthia McKinney when redistricting practically booted her from office.
But it was Congresswoman McKinney’s cozy relationship with Fidel Castro and a host of Islamic despots, despite their horrendous treatment of gays, that ultimately drove a wedge with many gay (and straight) locals. Father and daughter both blamed white gay voters, along with Jews, when she was unable to win reelection. Years later, when she tried to regain office, the Human Rights Campaign took the unusual step of backing her opponent, out lesbian Cathy Woolard, in the Democratic primary.
The Green Party has long supported full marriage equality and did so again in their 2008 platform. But, I haven’t seen any evidence that McKinney has publicly embraced that view as her own.
Bob Barr, the Libertarian pick, has an even more twisted gay rights history. Barr was Enemy No. 1 of gay rights in his four terms as a congressman from Cobb County, which made headlines for being shunned by the Olympic torch relay in 1996 because of a resolution that said those of “the gay lifestyle” weren’t welcome.
That same year, Barr authored the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), easily the most notorious anti-gay law ever adopted by Congress. Passed amidst panic over the possibility that Hawaii might marry same-sex couples, DOMA prohibits the U.S. government from recognizing gay marriages. It also says that, despite a constitutional provision to the contrary, no state has to recognize marriage licenses issued to gay couples by other states.
After a changing demographic and redistricting got Barr booted from office in 2002, he raised eyebrows by reinventing himself as a civil libertarian, signing on as a consultant for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The new and improved Bob Barr has even disassociated himself from his most famous piece of legislation.
“Standing before you, looking you in the eye, the Defense of Marriage Act, insofar as it provided the federal government a club to club down the rights of law-abiding, American citizens, has been abused, misused and should be repealed,” Barr said in his speech accepting the Libertarian nomination.
Barr’s “defense of marriage” was always a bizarre contradiction, considering he was twice-divorced and on his third marriage back when he wrote the law. His new-found opposition to his own handiwork was a head-scratcher, too. How exactly was the law “abused and misused,” considering its impact was pretty much exactly as foreseen?
The new Bob Barr still parts ways with his party on gay marriage, since he opposes its adoption, although he believes states should be left to decide the question for themselves. And he still backs the half of DOMA that allows states to refuse to recognize gay married couples from other states.
Throw in the Libertarian Party’s long-held (if principled) opposition to hate crime laws, workplace protection and other private sector non-discrimination statutes, and Barr lines up on gay rights somewhere just north of John McCain — and that’s not saying much.
There are lots of good reasons that LGBT groups warn us not to throw away our votes on third-party candidates and independent types, but this time around the temptation should be particularly easy to resist.
— Chris Crain is former editor of The Washington Blade and five other gay publications and now edits GayNewsWatch.com. He can be reached via his blog at citizenchris.typepad.com.