And a happy Harvey Milk Day to you too, Senators. As predicted, Democrats in the Senate yesterday joined their Republican colleagues in a little bit of legislative gay-bashing directed at the so-called “comprehensive” immigration reform bill, that’s looking less and less comprehensive by the hour.
Democratic Senators, including Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Al Franken (D-MN), dutifully lined up and spoke out about how much they cared about gay rights, but they just had to throw gays under the bus, and nix (yet again) an attempt to include our immigration concerns in the “comprehensive” bill, lest the Republicans get angry.
And, as we know all too well, Democrats don’t like fighting for what they believe in if it risks making Republicans angry.
It was health care reform all over again
All sarcasm aside, there was a major sense of deja vu watching Democrats explain to us why they simply couldn’t stand up to Republican hostage-takers who threatened to kill the immigration bill if the gay-focused provision – granting immigration rights to foreign-national partners of gay-Americans – was included. It sounded an awfully lot like the arguments we heard about the public option during health care reform.
As you recall, during health care reform (and the stimulus) we were constantly told that Republicans, and conservative Dems, were opposed to the public option, so there was no point in trying to push for it. But the logical fallacy the Democrats faced was that we’d never know how strong the GOP truly opposed the public option, something that polled at 70% favorability, if we didn’t at least try to fight for it. You’d be amazed at the magic a little fight can bring to the table.
And the contrary is also true. If you don’t fight at all, if you admit right out of the gate that you’re afraid of the other guy’s threat, then the other guy is going to dig in, whether he’s bluffing or not, because you’ve pretty much already signalled that you will eventually cave to his demands.
And, like clockwork, Democrats did cave, mightily.
Democrats bailed on gays from the beginning
From the beginning, Democrats refused to add the gay provision to the legislation, telling us we could get it added with an amendment in committee. Many of us didn’t believe that, and when the time came, Democrats caved and we didn’t get our amendment in committee. And now we’re being told that we can get the amendment on the Senate floor. Yeah, whatever. The time to include gays in the comprehensive bill was when the bill was drafted, not by amendment. We’re not getting in there now, ever.
Who’s to blame? Lots of people.
Surely the GOP, for starters, and especially Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who, for whatever reason, seems desperately interested in convincing primary voters in his state that he’s really really really anti-gay, and I mean really. (A lot of us think the Lady Graham doth protest too much.)
But it’s not just the Republicans’ fault. If you try to shoot me, and someone else has the chance to quite possibly save me, but they don’t because they either don’t terribly like me, or they’re simply big chickens, I’m going to end up kind of ticked at both the guy who killed me and the guy who could have saved my life were he a better person.
And certainly our Bad Samaritans include Senate Democrats (Schumer, Feinstein, Durbin and Franken) and the President, who according to AP signalled today that he wanted the gay amendment killed. No great profiles in courage there.
Progressive and gay groups didn’t help matters either
But it also includes progressive groups like CAP, and most of the gay groups (except Immigration Equality), all of whom were awfully quiet about UAFA, the gay immigration provision, being excluded from the bill until the top liberal gay bloggers weighed in (Pam Spaulding and Scott Wooledge come to mind, in addition to my posts, as did several others). Up until then, our gay groups, along with CAP, were pleased as punch about the immigration bill because, they claimed, it was the gayest thing ever, even without UAFA.
Immigration reform is the GAYEST BILL EVER (or not)
Now, you’d think not including the gay community’s number one immigration priority in the immigration bill would make gay groups and our allies less than happy. You’d be wrong. You see, they explained, because some 3% of the public is supposedly gay (and I’ve never bought that study, but that’s the conventional wisdom nowadays), we can then assume that slightly less than 3% of the immigration bill’s beneficiaries are gay. And if there are 11 million beneficiaries of the immigration bill, then 267,000 of them must be gay – thus making this the GAYEST BILL EVER.
Of course, under that logic, the Bush tax cuts would also be the gayest bill ever as gays are probably 3% of US taxpayers too. (And National Ice Cream Day would also be the gayest thing ever, since 3% of ice cream manufacturers are likely gay, and thus perhaps it should be renamed National Ice Cream Gay to celebrate our great victory.)
All kidding aside, claiming that any legislation that affects gay people is “gay” legislation effectively makes every piece of legislation “gay.” Which is a bit ludicrous.
But the impact is far more nefarious than simply watering down the definition of gay. If the immigration bill can explicitly kick out gay couples from its benefits, but the bill remains the gayest bill ever, then we’re faced with an awful paradox: We could lose the only thing we’re fighting for in a piece of legislation and still that legislation would be our biggest victory ever. Which creates a situation in which we never have to win again, because our losses will always be our bigest victories simply because some of the people benefiting from the bill will be incidentally gay.
And that I fear was the entire point of coming up with this suspect 267,000 figure in the first place. It permitted a select number of gay, immigration and progressive groups to paint immigration reform as “gay,” while knowing (and colluding in the fact?) that gays would never get their number one priority in the bill. But by convincing the gay community that “267,000 gays” would benefit from the immigration bill regardless, they hoped to confuse the gay community into accepting defeat as victory, and using our well-known political power, and money, to help pass a bill that basically slapped us in the face.
And what happened during the Senate committee mark-up yesterday? Durbin and Franken both used the 267,000 figure to justify dropping UAFA. Political homophobia became homophilia, they were bashing us because they loved us.
One other interesting point that I’d noted previously. The group that came up with the magical 267,000 figure gets funding from the Haas Foundation. And the Haas Foundation also funds most of the top gay and progressive groups, specifically on immigration advocacy – the Haas Foundation is a big supporter of the immigration bill. And at the same time, for some reason, those gay and progressive groups didn’t seem to do nearly enough to push for UAFA’s inclusion in this legislation (while other Democrats were publicly worrying about whether the gays would kill immigration reform). And finally, while not doing enough to push UAFA, those same groups kept talking about how we shouldn’t worry, because it’s still the gayest bill ever. I just find all of that an interesting coincidence.
It’s not about idealism, it’s about not even trying
In the end, this isn’t about idealism. And it isn’t about “naively” making the best the enemy of the good. It’s about not even trying.
No one is asking Democrats to kill the immigration bill if we can’t get gays included. We are asking Democrats, and immigration groups, and gay advocacy groups, and CAP to fight like hell for our inclusion and only to cave at the last minute if that’s what’s needed to pass the bill (and not to, by the way, mention any of this publicly). Instead, we got a lot of press releases, which are nice but useless, and a lot of people speaking publicly about how, gosh, maybe we should boot the gays in order to save the bill, apparently because gays are still sadly expendable in Democratic politics in 2013.
Oh, and we also didn’t get any of that famed angry gay advocacy that we saw with the repeal of DADT. I also found that interesting.
That is not a recipe for calling the Republicans’ bluff.
The final irony for gay binational couples (where one person is American and the other is a foreign national) is that those couples are basically being punished for obeying the law. Had gay couples broken the law, and stayed in the US illegally, they’d be covered by the immigration bill. But because they didn’t break the law, they just got thrown out of the bill that was supposed to help them in the first place.
Gayest bill ever, my ass.