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VOTING FOR EQUALITY

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A governor's seat is up for grabs, redistricting has drawn new political boundaries, and attitudes towards gays and lesbians are changing: These ingredients could combine to further the gay-lesbian agenda that won several victories during the last legislative session — or they might set it back 20 years.

The Stonewall Democrats, Lavender Greens, and Outright Libertarians are either endorsing candidates for the 2002 general election, or working within their own parties to promote GLBT issues for the 2003 legislative and Congressional sessions.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the GLBT arm of the GOP, could not be reached by phone or email for comment.

Dan Graney, co-chair of the San Antonio chapter of the Stonewall Democrats, said the group endorsed 46 of 65 candidates, which would have been "unthinkable" several years ago. Candidates received the Stonewall Democrat's endorsement if their responses to a questionnaire were "gay friendly" and if they attended an endorsement meeting held by the group. `See box, this page.`

While the gays and lesbians enjoy few protections in Texas, the Hate Crimes Law, which passed in last year's session and was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry, was pivotal for the GLBT community. "We turned a corner," Graney noted. Yet, in its first year, the law has not been adequately enforced, critics charge, due to Attorney General John Cornyn's failure to notify police and courts `see Current, August 15-21`.

If passed and signed into law, the Defense of Marriage Act, would kill any chance of gays and lesbians marrying or having civil unions in Texas. Although the bill died in the Senate last year, Republican Ken Mercer, who is running against Democrat Raul Prado (who didn't receive a Stonewall endorsement) for the House seat in District 117, has vowed in his campaign literature to co-sponsor DOMA. "That will clearly define marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman."

"If the House goes to the Republicans as some are predicting it will because of redistricting, the bill has a good chance of succeeding," Graney explained.

The Stonewall Democrats endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez, who they hope would veto the DOMA should it pass the full legislature, and Ron Kirk, who is running for U.S. Senate. "Kirk said he would support the non-discrimination in employment act and he has been extremely sensitive to our issues in Dallas," Graney said.

The GLBT lobby will also fight to repeal Section 21.06, which for those familiar with gay and lesbian issues, is known by its number rather than its name — the Sodomy Act. In Houston in 1998, two sheriff's deputies responding to a false report of an armed intruder, entered a private Houston apartment, where they found two men having sex. The men were arrested and later convicted of misdemeanors, which carries up to $500 in fines. The Texas Supreme Court upheld a lower court's decision and it is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During the primary, an independent political action committee for Republican John Shields (who voted against the hate crimes bill) lodged tried to link incumbent Jeff Wentworth with a pro-gay agenda. `As Jerry Seinfeld would say, "not that there's anything wrong with that."` "We've not seen the gay-baiting in the governor's race," Graney said. "The tide is turning in there's a better understanding. But when you get down to adoptions or foster parenting that will not receive as much support. Texas is a very conservative state and even our most friendly candidates feel like they have to be careful."

The Greens and Libertarians are also mobilizing the GLBT members within their respective parties. John St. Denis, member of the Lavender Greens and treasurer of the Travis County Green Party said the caucus "keeps a hand in and informs the party." The Lavender Greens have been accredited into the national party, which means it qualified by having a least 100 members in 15 states. The Greens are also running an openly gay candidate, Cliff Pearson, for a Justice of the Peace seat in Dallas.

The Outright Libertarians don't have a Texas chapter — although there are members in the Lone Star State — but they are working to hone the party's position on gay marriage and adoption. The Libertarian platform states that marriage is a private commitment and shouldn't require laws or government to validate it. "It calls for the government to get out of the social engineering business and stop licensing marriages altogether," explained Allan Wallace, National Chairman of the Outright Libertarians. "Outright Libertarians agree, but we see the implementation as too long term to address some of the real issues surround marriage for gays and lesbians." These issues include the right to inherit property and the ability to make medical decisions for their partners.

Wallace said that Libertarians differ with other GLBT groups in that the party doesn't specify that hate crimes should be penalized more harshly. "We support additional penalties for all violent crimes," he noted. "Personally, I don't buy into the notion that all hate crimes are actually attacks against the whole community."

For Libertarians, long-time opponents of gun control, the way the GLBT can protect itself from attack is by carrying a weapon. "Gun control," explained Outright Libertarian and Pink Pistol member Dan Weiner of Texas, "is the theory that Matthew Shepard hanging from a fence post is morally superior to Matthew Shepard explaining to the local sheriff how his attackers go those fatal bullet wounds."

For candidates who expect to woo the gay and lesbian vote, they will have to explain their records, defend their positions on the issues, and be prepared to answer to a growing and powerful voting bloc.

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