Gay pride flag.Our friend Nathaniel Frank is the author of the book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America. He was an expert witness in two Constitutional challenges to "don't ask, don't tell," whose success helped end the policy. Yesterday he spoke on the phone with the parents of his best friend about how they were planning on voting tomorrow; he was moved afterward to write this open letter to them:
Dear X & Y:
We go back a long time, to the beginning of my college years. I've known you over half my life, and you've become like another set of parents to me. I've enjoyed sparring with you over politics at Christmas dinner, and I respect that you, X, have been a proud Republican all your life (for reasons that I understand, even though I disagree with them) and that you, Y, have prided yourself on being an independent voter.
I realize there are many factors that shape our decisions about whom we think should lead our country. No one person will fully represent all that's important to us, so we must choose the issues we value the most, size up a candidate's character as best we can, and ultimately pull the lever we think will do the most good.
For me, that's Barack Obama's lever, as I've explained elsewhere. You'll decide who it is for you, but I feel compelled to ensure you know just what Mitt Romney believes and promises to do about gay people like me and your son, Z. For I fear that many people have the vague sense that Romney can't be that bad on gay rights, but they haven't really gotten all the information. And even when they hear tidbits trickling out, they haven't fully absorbed what a Romney presidency could mean for the gay people they love.
Romney not only opposes your son's right to marry the person he loves, but opposes civil unions, a back-of-the-bus version of relationship recognition designed to do nothing but remind gay couples that they're lesser. That puts Romney to the right of George W. Bush who supported civil unions, and well to the right of Dick Cheney, who supports marriage equality. Marriage is not a mere abstraction or symbol -- a government study found that it provides over 1100 crucial rights and protections, and states provide many more.
It gets worse: Romney doesn't only oppose marriage equality, he supports tearing a hole in the U.S. Constitution to ban it, using the amendment process for the first time ever to remove instead of protect a right. This could annul tens of thousands of existing marriages, yanking away rights and tearing families apart. If you think I'm being dramatic, check out this report I helped author showing that the two million children of LGBT parents have become "collateral damage" of anti-gay ideology and law.
Romney doesn't only oppose marriage for gays, he finds the prospect of gay parenting to be anathema to all that's good and civil. As governor of Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe, he "opposed child-rearing by gay couples" and when his state's Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, he refused to grant accurate birth certificates to kids born to same-sex couples. Indeed, Romney hasn't only opposed gay parenting, he's been downright derisive of it. "Some gays are actually having children born to them," he told a South Carolina audience in 2005. "It's not right on paper. It's not right in fact. Every child has a right to a mother and father." More recently, Etch-a-Sketch Mitt tried to moderate his image by warming to gay adoptions but -- after hollering from the religious right -- back-tracked the very next day claiming that "actually" all he'd done was to "simply acknowledge the fact that gay adoption is legal" in most states.
It gets worse: Romney approves of the idea that states should be free to bar your son from entering the hospital to sit by the bedside of his dying partner (don't worry -- he's not dying!) And he puts his considerable money where is mouth is. He's donated at least $60,000 to anti-gay causes. That's more than a lot of Americans make in a year.
It gets worse: Romney signed a pledge with a fiercely anti-gay organization that he would appoint federal judges who would block gay rights. That means, if he can, appointing a Supreme Court that would likely have criminalized homosexuality itself, not to mention that will oppose same-sex marriage.
It gets worse: As governor of Massachusetts, Romney, who was forced to apologize for having bullied a gay student in prep school, blocked the publication of an anti-bullying guide when he learned it mentioned bisexual and transgender people, and he abolished the Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth.
In fact, what we now know of Romney suggests he can be not only frighteningly out of touch but astoundingly cold and unfeeling about vulnerable and unfamiliar people. As governor of Massachusetts, he told Julie Goodridge, a lesbian mother who was the named plaintiff in the same-sex marriage court case, "I didn't know you had families." And it wasn't a moment of touching revelation. When Goodridge asked him, "What would you suggest I say to my 8 year-old daughter about why her mommy and her ma can't get married because you, the governor of her state, are going to block our marriage?" he reportedly said, "I don't really care what you tell your adopted daughter." She wasn't adopted. "Why don't you just tell her the same thing you've been telling her the last eight years." Trying to usher her out of his office, he said, "is there anything else?" Goodridge recalls it as a heartbreaking meeting. "I've never stood before someone who had no capacity for empathy," she said. "It went [beyond] flat affect. It was a complete lack of ability or motivation to understand other people."
Think Mitt's a moderate dressed up as a "severely conservative" candidate (as he's called himself)? What I've described above are not only his words but his thoughts, his beliefs, his actions, his record. These are the things he thinks, says and does. He did them when in power, and will do them again. Because the day he enters the White House, he's running for a second term. He still needs to hold his coalition together. And he's shown what he'll do to maintain power.
In at least three cases, gay people who worked under Romney were fired or forced out when their identities became public -- in all three cases, Romney was wooing the right wing by showing how tough he was on gays.
And that's the thing: if all this is not enough for you to reconsider pulling the lever for Mitt, if his beliefs and positions and record on gay rights are just not enough to sway you, consider this: Mitt Romney is someone who will exploit the vulnerable to gain and maintain power. That's a character flaw that transcends how we each may prioritize the various issues we care about. It speaks to leadership and trustworthiness. Sure, politicians throw folks under the bus all the time. Obama dissed "Wall Street fat cats" to leverage populist anger among his base. But here's the difference: Obama picked on the powerful -- they can take it (and sometimes they deserve it); Romney abuses the vulnerable to advance himself, and that's despicable.
Other issues matter that we both care about -- matter a lot. If those issues take precedence in swaying your vote, so be it -- I probably won't convince you with one letter. But let me just say a few sentences about these issues.
On the economy, you may have heard a pitched debate about whether the math for Romney's plan adds up. The truth is in the middle: it's based on wildly optimistic projections that are the opposite of conservative -- anyone running a business or household that way would be laughed out of power. The only prudent take-away is that he's highly unlikely to achieve the tax and growth agenda he's selling, and as Slate points out, he'll never get it through Congress even if he wins. He promises 12 million new jobs that experts predict will emerge no matter who's in power. And Obama's steps to save the auto industry, stop the bleeding and begin to stimulate the economy have shown documentable results.
Some experts say it should take ten years to recover from the recession the Republicans left us with; Obama's only had four and he's still created nearly 5 million jobs after the recession he inherited shedding over $4 million. There's plenty more to do, but little evidence that Romney's plan will make things better.
On foreign policy, Romney basically endorsed every Obama position in the last debate, putting almost no daylight between the two men. Benghazi was a tragedy that's an unfortunate result of living in a world that's not risk-free. The idea of a cover-up, that the White House expected to keep the possibility of Al Qaeda links from the public all the way through the election, is asinine, given how much information it turns out there was about what really appears to have happened. Meanwhile, did Bush prevent 9/11? No (but Obama brought Bin Laden to Justice), in part because his national security team was still fixated on a phantom Cold War that ended a decade before.
On the environment, people can disagree on the extent and threat of climate change but it was Romney who used rising oceans as a laugh line weeks before those oceans poured over sea walls to inundate American towns and cities, destroying thousands of lives. He has said we should divert federal relief resources to local governments and even private contractors. How can a town or a company jet in $25 million gallons of emergency fuel to affected areas like the military is doing as we speak? This liberal will cheer the Pentagon every step of the way. Oh, and a woman's right to choose? Don't expect a Romney Supreme Court to protect it.
Many have called LGBT equality the civil rights issue of our time. I think they're right. Now that the two candidates have offered us the starkest choice ever on this critical issue, the choice you make will become part of your legacy. With whom do you want to cast your vote? Which camp reflects who you are and who you want to be? No one ever doubted you love your son with all your being; no one thinks you have an ounce of homophobia in your blood. If you're pausing even for a moment to consider voting for Obama, I hope it's, in part, because your relationships with your son, with me, and with all your gay friends, have offered the opportunity to connect the lives of gay people with your own values. But I hope you won't do it it for your son, or for me, or your gay friends. I hope you'll do it, if you do it, because having processed the available information, you've decided it's what you think is right.
-- Nathaniel Frank
MORE LIKE THIS ON EMandLO.com: