Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sarah Palin has no Gay Friends

When John McCain announced Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential running mate in late August, the response was near-universal astonishment. With no foreign policy credentials, next to no national profile, and having served in the statehouse for less than two years, Palin has such a thin record -- both legislatively and in terms of public statements -- that it’s difficult to predict just what sort of vice president (or, given McCain’s advanced age, president) she might soon become. As for issues affecting gay Americans, there’s only a handful of legal decisions -- made early in her tenure as governor -- that can help us divine where she stands.

A self-described “hockey mom,” hunting enthusiast, and evangelical Christian, Palin has been reared in the political culture of Alaska. It’s a state whose politics is defined at times by a libertarian, live-and-let-live approach that fits naturally with frontier existence and at times by a more intrusive, religiously grounded conservatism brought by the Southerners and Westerners who swarmed the state in the 1970s and ’80s for jobs in the booming oil industry. In 1996 the Alaska state legislature passed a law stipulating that marriage can exist only between people of opposite genders. A gay couple sued the state on the basis that the measure was discriminatory. Two years later, 68% of voters approved a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, making Alaska the first state to amend its constitution this way.

Palin, then mayor of Wasilla -- a city about 40 miles north of Anchorage with a population of less than 10,000 -- supported the marriage amendment, as did most of the state’s politicians. And she continued to solidify her reputation as a traditional, “family values” conservative as her political career took off. Running for governor in 2006, she announced her opposition to a 2005 Alaska supreme court ruling that ordered the state government to offer health and retirement benefits to the domestic partners of its employees; her Democratic opponent, former governor Tony Knowles, supported the ruling. In a questionnaire provided by the Alaska chapter of the Eagle Forum, the socially conservative lobbying organization founded by Phyllis Schlafly, Palin listed “preserving the definition of ‘marriage’ as defined in our constitution” as one of her highest priorities.

Palin won the gubernatorial election comfortably -- and one of her first acts in office was to veto a bill that would have blocked those court-ordered benefits for same-sex couples. The move is now cited as an example of her “inclusiveness,” but she made it only under the advisement of the attorney general, who said the bill violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. In a statement released in conjunction with the veto, Palin made clear her continued opposition to domestic-partner benefits: “Signing this bill would be in direct violation of my oath of office,” she said, emphasizing that her rejection of the bill was purely legalistic and ought not to be taken as a sign of any newfound support for gay rights.

No comments: