Would a President Hillary Clinton have made more progress on LGBT issues over the course of her first term as opposed to what we’ve seen under President Obama?
The secretary of state certainly stole the spotlight on LGBT issues when she gave a high-profile speech in Geneva earlier this month calling for an end to anti-gay abuses overseas and emphasizing her previously stated belief that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.
“In our lifetimes, attitudes toward gay people in many places have been transformed,” Clinton said. “Many people, including myself, have experienced a deepening of our own convictions on this topic over the years, as we have devoted more thought to it, engaged in dialogues and debates, and established personal and professional relationships with people who are gay.”
Clinton had a strong LGBT following in 2008 when she was competing against Obama for the Democratic nomination for president. There were many high-profile LGBT Clintonistas, although many of them became Obama supporters after he won the Democratic mantle.
Former members of Clinton’s 2008 LGBT steering committee praised her speech in Geneva, but noted that it took place as part of a coordinated effort under the Obama administration.
Elizabeth Birch, former executive director of the Human Rights Campaign and a Clinton backer in 2008, said the Clinton speech was “bold and historic,” but wouldn’t have taken place if President Obama didn’t want it to happen.
“It was as deeply thoughtful and intelligent as Secretary Clinton herself,” Birch said. “But we all know that the secretary of state serves the president and our nation. This speech took place because this administration — including Secretary Clinton — wanted it to take place.”
Peter Rosenstein, a gay D.C. Democratic activist and 2008 Clinton delegate, noted Clinton’s speech followed Obama’s speech at the United Nations in which he became the first sitting president to mention gay rights in a speech before the full U.N. General Assembly.
“I think Hillary made a brilliant, heartfelt speech on LGBT rights but let us not forget that President Obama spoke out first at the United Nations on the need to protect gay and lesbian people around the world,” Rosenstein said.
But questions linger among some Clinton supporters over what progress the LGBT community would have seen if she had won the presidency.
Clinton’s LGBT advocacy in her role as secretary of state has been aggressive. Early on during the administration, Clinton instituted a change to offer equal benefits to same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers.
The change allowed same-sex partners to have access to diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at posts overseas, medical and other emergency evacuation privileges, compensation for transportation between posts and training in security and languages.
The Obama administration has no seen no shortage of major advancements for the LGBT community. Notable among them is passage of hate crimes protection legislation, repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the discontinuation of the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court.
Clo Ewing, an Obama campaign spokesperson, touted the president’s record in response to an inquiry on whether a President Clinton would have accomplished more than President Obama.
“President Obama’s administration has done more to advance LGBT equality than any other, accomplishing the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act into law and ending discrimination based on gender identity in the federal government,” Ewing said. “And if he’s reelected, that progress will continue.”
Still, many LGBT advocates are frustrated that Obama has yet to come out in support of same-sex marriage. Obama has said he could “evolve” to support marriage rights, but more than a year has passed since he made that statement and he has yet to do so.