In 2000, as Vermont Governor Howard Dean prepared to put pen to paper, to sign a controversial law allowing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, he knew that he was doing something historic and in some camps, highly unpopular.
"I knew it was a big deal," said Dean. "But lots of Democrats and Republicans were looking for someone who would stand up and do the right thing. No one else would have signed that law. But you can't deny equal protection because it is politically inconvenient."
Although there was a backlash against the legislation, the law stands, and as Dean, a Democrat, prepares to run for president in 2004, he has locked in a key voting bloc: the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. That partnership brings Dean to San Antonio, where he will be the keynote speaker at a fund-raiser for the Stonewall Democrats on Saturday.
The Vermont law's implications are more than ceremonial: it extended to gay and lesbian couples who had civil unions, about 300 rights enjoyed by married couples, including inheritance rights and insurance benefits. More than 3,400 civil unions (including 117 Texas couples, have been performed in Vermont, although many states, including Texas, don't recognize civil union status in their jurisdictions.
"We really do believe that all Americans ought to be equal under the law," Dean added, referring to the Vermont state constitution. While he expects the religious right to attack him during the campaign for passing the law, Dean said that he doubts that the majority of the American public will condemn him for it.
"The right wing will claim it is gay marriage, which isn't true, but the right-wing will say anything to win," said Dean, who has been Vermont's governor since 1992. "September 11 has made everything different in America. One of the things that happened is that people fundamentally believe hate won't win an election, because hate is what drove those planes into those buildings. Hate won't win."
While Dean's appearance will help raise money for the local and national Stonewall Democrats, expect the 2004 presidential candidate to be eyeing potential donors for his campaign as well. Dean is counting on the financial support of the gay and lesbian community that was pivotal in the last presidential election; in 2000, the Gore-Lieberman ticket raised $10 million from gay and lesbian donors.
If Dean at this point still a dark horse candidate wins the presidential election in two years, he could inherit a mess from the Bush administration: for starters, a costly, bloody war, a crippled economy and health care system, and a gigantic federal deficit.
"The tax cuts were a terrible mistake," Dean said of Bush's attempt to jumpstart the economy. "I don't know anybody who is better off because of the tax cut. I'm going to run to the right of the president on fiscal issues. Bush is a borrow-and-spend liberal, but he spends money on people who don't need it."
A former doctor, Dean also said he would provide health insurance for every American; 96 percent of children are insured in Vermont. When George W. Bush was governor, Texas had the highest percentage of children without insurance.
As for corporate accountability, Dean said he would implement pension reforms and Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt would be on the chopping block.
"I would fire Harvey Pitt," Dean said. "We need accounting standards not recommended by Harvey Pitt. Republicans are very permissive on corporate issues and they've sent the signal to do whatever you want."
Whatever you want: A freedom that applies to corporate America, but not to gays and lesbians, who want to legally commit to the person they love and receive the benefits.
VERMONT GOVERNOR HOWARD DEAN
Saturday, September 28
204 Alamo Plaza
Ticket info: 861-1503 or 494-7442