WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Stonewall Democrats (NSD) issued deep concern Jan. 12 over the decision to name former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (pictured) as Chair of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC). Stonewall also urged the DLC and the LGBT community to closely scrutinize the record of Congressman Ford in light of the development. On Jan. 11 Former Iowa governor, and presidential candidate, Tom Vilsack announced that he is stepping down from the Chair of the DLC while indicating his replacement by Congressman Ford, who possesses a poor record on issues that impact LGBT families.
“Congressman Harold Ford has demonstrated a lack of leadership and judgment on family issues that causes our members great concern,” said Joanne Wyrick, NSD executive director. “His willingness to lightly amend the U.S. Constitution and to exploit gay families for political gain should alarm Democrats across the country. The Democratic Leadership Council is in need of leadership that supports and affirms all American families.”
In 2004, with his eye on his senate race, Harold Ford reversed his past opposition to an amendment to the United States Constitution that would permanently bar the legal responsibilities of domestic partnerships, civil unions and civil marriage to same-sex couples. In 2006, Ford again joined only a small minority of Democrats who voted for the amendment, which was dramatically defeated by both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate.
“This is not about ideology,” continued Wyrick. “Conservative, centrist and progressive Democrats agree that those who support such a constitutional amendment threaten the stability of thousands of American homes. Given that Harold Ford is at odds with the past position of the Democratic Leadership Council, we hope that this presents the DLC with an opportunity to reaffirm their supportive position and for Congressman Ford to rejoin Democrats across the country in rejecting the divisive policies of the Bush administration and discredited Republican leadership.”
Ford’s support of the anti-gay amendment opposes the policy of the DLC, which he now seeks to lead. In 2004, the Democratic Leadership Council called politicians like Ford, who supported the amendment, “cynical and desperate.”
“This tactic is socially divisive, morally questionable, and politically dangerous,” wrote the DLC. “We suggest the president prove his own values by focusing on that threat to the institution of marriage, and stop dividing the country with an effort to bring back the ‘culture wars’ of the past.”
In his 2006 senate race, Ford swiftly exploited a ruling by the Supreme Court of New Jersey that challenged the state legislature to provide basic legal benefits for same-sex couples. He told The National Journal: “I do not support the decision today reached by the New Jersey Supreme Court regarding gay marriage. I oppose gay marriage, and have voted twice in Congress to amend the United States Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. This November there’s a referendum on the Tennessee ballot to ban same-sex marriage — I am voting for it.”
However, the New Jersey Supreme Court actually rejected the appeal to immediately grant civil marriage responsibilities to same-sex couples. In contrast, the court agreed with President George W. Bush who argued in 2004 that marriage should be left to religious institutions, but that the state has an obligation to provide basic legal protections to same-sex families.
The DLC was led nationally by then-Governor Bill Clinton during the 1990s and includes Vice President Al Gore as a founding member. The DLC is not an official party organization, but a non-profit organization that represents a coalition of centrist Democrats in Congress and at the state and local level. Openly-gay Democrats have previously joined the leadership of the DLC as members of State Legislative Advisory Board and Local Elected Officials Network.
Earlier this month, Congressman Stephen Cohen replaced Ford as the United States Representative in Tennessee’s 9th Congressional District centered in Memphis. Congressman Cohen easily won election as a supporter of civil marriage for same-sex couples.