Task Force honors Daschle for opposing amendment
Activists critical of former senator’s DOMA vote
By EARTHA MELZER
Friday, June 24, 2005
WASHINGTON Calling him the “architect of the defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment,” the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force honored former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) with a leadership award in a ceremony held at New York University earlier this month.
Organizers said that an estimated 250 people attended the June 13 event and that it raised $110,000 for the organization.
Daschle was the Senate Democratic leader when the Federal Marriage Amendment was first introduced last year. The FMA, which would have amended the U.S. Constitution to prevent recognition of same-sex marriage, failed to get a vote on the Senate floor.
Social conservatives have argued that it is necessary to amend the Constitution because federal courts may one day overturn the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA banned same-sex marriage recognition under federal law and specified that states would not be required to recognize same-sex relationships recognized by other states.
Daschle was among the many Democrats to vote for DOMA, which passed the Senate 85-14 and was signed into law by President Clinton.
Last year, in a May 7 Washington Blade editorial, Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman took direct aim at Daschle for caving along with other Senate Democrats on a pledge to kill the FMA. He expressed frustration that gay groups were spending money lobbying to defeat the FMA, rather than state constitutional amendments, because the Democrats were not living up to their pledge to stop the federal measure.
“We’ve since learned that the Daschle pledge was a classic display of Washington legalese,” Foreman wrote then. “For me, it’s appalling indeed sickening that scarce resources are being sucked into [fighting the FMA].”
Foreman said that shortly after the editorial was published, he participated in a meeting in which Daschle reassured FMA opponents that he was serious about fighting the measure.
“Daschle gave his word and kept his word,” Foreman said, crediting Daschle with gathering 51 Democratic votes against moving the amendment toward a vote.
“He took a stand for us, and it hurt him, and it hurt his political career and that is something that deserves to be honored and recognized,” Foreman said.
Foreman said that during Daschle’s 2004 reelection campaign, opponents used Daschle’s stance on the FMA against him, arguing that he was out of touch or too liberal for the people of South Dakota.
“He always supported the hate crimes bill and ENDA, he was a champion for Native American rights, he had a very strong environmental record, a strong labor record and a good, though not perfect, record on choice,” Foreman said.
Daschle received a 63 percent pro-gay voting record from the Human Rights Campaign for his final year in the Senate.
During his reelection campaign, Daschle countered criticism about his opposition to the FMA by emphasizing that he had voted for the Defense of Marriage Act.
“This was a pathetic attempt to keep his seat,” Andy Thayer, of the Gay Liberation Network and DontAmend.com said. He should not be trying to sell our civil rights down the river to help his career.”
Thayer slammed the Task Force for honoring Daschle as an appalling move to curry favor with the Democratic Party.
Thayer said that mainstream gay organizations have given a pass to the Democratic Part, calling it a serious tactical error.
“During the first Bush administration, agitation resulted in the Ryan White Care Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Thayer said. “But under Clinton, we got DOMA and ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ because people were under the illusion that they had a friend in power and they didn’t have to fight anymore.”
“Why do we continually have to honor people who don’t believe in civil rights for our community?” agreed Robin Tyler of DontAmend.com. Any Democrat who goes against the FMA but signs on to DOMA is a hypocrite. You either believe in full civil rights for us or you don’t.”
“The history books will show that instead of protesting his position, one of our major organizations gave him an award,” Tyler said.
Earlier this year, the Task Force presented former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean with a lifetime achievement award. Dean signed into law historic civil union legislation in that state but has been a consistent opponent of gay marriage.