Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The 90s: President Clinton

Bill Clinton
In 1993 the gay community was ecstatic when Clinton became President. Unlike the last two presidents, Democratic Party candidate Bill Clinton promised to get rid of the military's prohibition of homosexuals and increase AIDS funding. During the election he had received 75% of the gay vote and $3 million in contributions from the homosexual community.

After being elected gays and lesbians celebrated by leading the Third Lesbian and Gay March (pictured below) on Washington, one which brought over a million participants to our nation's capital. President Clinton quickly appointed almost a hundred lesbians and gay men to his administration. Clinton soon formed the White House Office of National AIDS Policy followed by the creation of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. In 1995 Bill Clinton issued an executive order that sexual orientation could not be used against a person to deny someone security clearances. In 1996 Congress passed a bill that would force the discharge of HIV-positive servicemen from the armed forces, however the Clinton administration organized a repeal. 

Unfortunately Bill was not able to deliver on all of his promises. The first was Clinton's failure in allowing gays to be part of the military. This topic had been one of the oldest policies fought against by homophile groups, and Clinton had promised change. However, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn gathered support in Congress to make the military's ban an actual law, thus stopping the president from changing the regulations. Clinton was eventually pushed into making a compromise known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue." This policy meant that homosexual members of the armed forces could serve in the military as long as they kept it a secret, and did not have sex. Also, the military was not supposed to search/pursue these gays but if any evidence to suggest one is gay is produced, a commanding officer can investigate to his heart's content. Since 1993 12,500 servicemen have been discharged because of this policy.

Bringing it to the Courts
In 1993 the Supreme Court of Hawaii ruled that the stat needed to show a "compelling state interest" in denying homosexuals the right to marriage. Marriage was extremely important to gay couples as its legal status involved Medicare participation, eligibility for first-time home buyer assistance programs, special rules for international adoption, a variety of veterans benefits, immigration sponsorship qualifications for a partner, as well as numerous tax credits. Unfortunately in 1996 the right-wing revolted and Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which denied the recognition of any union between two people who were not male and female, and noted that no state had to accept any other state's definition of marriage. President Clinton was the one to sign this into law. Hawaii continued the case, but in 1996 the judge ruled against it.  The Hawaii legislature passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage-- in 1998 voters approved the amendment. Shortly after a similar occurrence happened in Alaska, but it also failed.

One positive aspect of this was the realization of gays and lesbians that their fight for equality needed to brought into the courts. In 1983 Sharon Kowalski had been paralyzed and speech-impaired from a car accident. Kowalski's legal guardianship was awarded to her parents, however, Karen Thompson, Kowalski's lover, was kept away despite Kowalski's typing out messages of protest. Thompson went to court and finally won guardianship in 1991. The case reminded gays and lesbians thats they were legally very vulnerable. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado constitutional amendment which prohibited anti-discrimination laws throughout the state from including sexual orientation as a basis for discrimination. This was a beacon of hope to gays and lesbians as it was one of the first times the Supreme Court had worked in interest of the LGBTQ community.

Additional/Relevant Reading:
Gays in the Military --,8599,1958246,00.html
Gay America: Struggle for Equality -- Linas Alsenas, pg. 133-136
Finding Out: An Introduction to LGBT Studies -- Meem, Gibson, Alexander, pg. 101, 102, 163

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