During a news conference on Friday, Sanders attacked Biden on how he voted on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) when it came up in the Senate in ’90s. It is true that Biden did vote for those policies, but what Sanders fails to mention is during this time in the ’90s homosexuality was not as widely accepted as it is today.
The short history of DOMA was the Democrats knew it was a terrible law but the alternative would have been a Constitutional Amendment calling for a ban on same sex marriage. Anyone who has some expertise in Constitutional law can tell you proposing an amendment to the Constitution takes a vote of either two-thirds of the House and the Senate or a constitutional convention by two-thirds of state legislatures. It then takes three-quarters of the states to approve the amendment. Considering the attitudes on homosexuality by the American majority, the amendment would have passed. What people fail to realize is despite the growing acceptance toward marriage equality during the last decade, if there was a Constitutional Amendment, there would not have been a surge in states allowing same sex marriage nor would the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26, 2015 have happened. The road to marriage equality would have been a much longer one with little result.
As for DADT, President Bill Clinton wanted to allow gays to serve openly in the military but he didn’t have enough support because, again, the attitude towards homosexuality during this time. Had the compromise of DADT not happened there would have been an outright ban on gays in the military which would have led to witch hunts to remove gays from the military. Even though DADT was a cruel policy to gays, it was a stepping stone that eventually led to LGBT military personnel being able to serve openly.
Sanders may have voted against both of these but had Biden and the rest of the Democrats who voted for these policies voted like Sanders, things would have been much different and possibly worse for the LGBTQ+ community in the United States today.
As Vice President, Biden appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on May 6, 2012 and voiced his support for same-sex marriage. Three days later, President Obama became the first sitting president to speak out about his support for marriage equality. The First Lady and Obama’s daughters having friends with same-sex parents may have been contributing factors to the president’s evolution on the issue, but it was Biden’s announcement that many credit to be THE motivator for Obama to voice his support earlier than the President had anticipated.
It took three more years for marriage equality to become a reality for the United States with the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. A year later, Joe Biden became the first, and so far, only Vice President to officiate a same-sex wedding, a wedding that just happened to be one between two White House staffers and was held in the Naval Observatory, where the Bidens lived during the Obama presidency.
Proud to marry Brian and Joe at my house. Couldn't be happier, two longtime White House staffers, two great guys. pic.twitter.com/0om1PT7bKh
— VP Biden (Archived) (@VP44) August 1, 2016
While Biden did vote for DOMA and DADT when he was in the Senate, Biden’s endorsement of marriage equality in 2012 prompted big movement on Barack Obama’s own support sooner than originally planned. It is important to acknowledge Biden’s part in history as the first sitting Vice President of the United States to not only support same-sex marriage which influenced Barack Obama to be the first sitting president to do the same but also the first VP to officiate a same-sex marriage.
I was one of the many that were discharged from the military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 1997 and for years, I was angry at President Clinton and the Democrats in Congress for voting in favor of such cruel policies. However, knowing what I know now and seeing the good that Biden did while he was Vice President, I understand why he voted for DOMA and DADT. It wasn’t malice towards the LGBTQ+ community that drove Biden and the Democrats, rather it was possibly foresight that motivated their decisions. While these archaic policies had a negative impact on our community, they helped to change attitudes towards members of the LGBTQ+ community.
As for the plans of the two candidates for LGBTQ+ equality, you can find Biden’s over at joebiden.com/lgbtq/ and Sanders’ at berniesanders.com/issues/lgbtq-equality. It is up to you, the voters in the LGBTQ+ community, to decide who you think is the candidate that will help bring us to full equality here in the United States.
Writer’s Note: This is the opinion of one contributing writer and may not reflect the views of Instinct Magazine itself or fellow contributors.