Friday, September 14, 2007

Outing Gay Issues in the A-B City Council Race

Boston City Councilors rarely have reason these days to vote on LGBT issues like gay marriage, since mostly those issues are in the purview of the State Legislature. As such, we haven't heard too much about gay issues in this year's election campaign for the Allston-Brighton District 9 City Council seat -- unlike the 2005 special election for state representative to replace a foe of marriage equality, Rep. Brian Golden.

Openly gay City Council candidate Tim Schofield was the first to announce his candidacy for the seat, which was conveyed by the LGBT website Bay Windows. Fortunately it wasn't too electrifying, because Schofield lived to tell about it; he doesn't seem to follow the instruction not to use cell phones while filling up at a gas station. Schofield and Mark Ciommo have both pitched their support for LGBT issues to the progressive community BlueMassGroup. But aside from a few other bits of banter, the topic hasn't really been raised in this campaign.

The LGBT paper of record, Bay Windows, now outs the gay issue in the A-B City Council race:
Denis Dison, Victory Fund’s vice president of communications, disputes the notion just because the Council doesn’t regularly vote on LGBT issues, there’s less need for an LGBT voice in the chamber. “You would never hear somebody say, ‘Gee, the City Council doesn’t really vote on women’s issues so we don’t need a woman,’ or, the City Council doesn’t really vote on African American civil rights issues so we don’t need any black people on the council,” said Dison.
You would think that openly gay candidate Tim Schofield would have a lock on the LGBT vote... but not so fast. While Schofield earned the endorsement of a prominent national organization, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, Mark Ciommo's "campaign manager, Michael McLaughlin, is a former MassEquality canvasser and his website prominently touts the support of Dale Mitchell, the executive director of the LGBT Aging Project." And "Cathy Greene, a lesbian lawyer who lives in the district, is passionate in her support of [Rosie] Hanlon, who she said is a whole-hearted supporter of gay rights." Schofield and Ciommo both went before the tough critics at BlueMassGroup to tout their progressive credentials, including on LGBT issues.

Past Records and Confusion in the Fog of History

Endorsements don't win elections; people do.  Those two candidates have a little bit of a track record to offer us insight.  Schofield testified at the State House against the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment that was later defeated.  Most people, regardless of their position on the amendment itself, will respect him for speaking out on that big stage to defend a politically poisonous issue of the day.

Ciommo's record, however, is mixed-up with accusations and denials, as detailed by the Bay Windows story.  Let's look through them and see if they hold water.

Ciommo maintains that he was a supporter of domestic partnerships since the early 1990s, but a column by Tom Keane in the Boston Herald late in 2002 claimed Ciommo opposed them.  Regarding gay marriage, most Massachusetts politicians didn't openly support marriage equality before the 2003 Supreme Judicial Court opinion -- but most have since become supporters, as indicated by the rejection of the constitutional amendment.  No different for Ciommo, who said "I’ve been a supporter of marriage equality since it was passed by the SJC.”

More difficult to explain, however, is his wife Laura's signature on an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment petition in 2005; she doesn't remember signing it, Mark thinks she was duped (many other people have made similar allegations about these particular petitions), and he said she was "devastated" when she found out that she had actually signed it.  The problem with this explanation? It's hard to maintain, simultaneously, both that she can't remember signing the petitition and that she was duped; you can remember signing it but claim you were duped, or you can remember neither signing it nor being duped.

The Bay Windows story further asserts that Ciommo used coded language in referring to his 2002 position on domestic partnerships when he recently said the confusion could have been a result of his desire in 2002 "to extend those benefits to siblings as well." Bay Windows reporter Laura Kiritsy argued that:
Extending domestic partnership benefits to spinster sisters or a son caring for his widowed mother is a tactic that has been used by gay rights opponents to water down or sink domestic partnerships bills in the past.
Ciommo appears to have stuck his sibling's foot in his mouth trying to wiggle out of his 2002 position on domestic partnerships (whatever that position was).

The fog of history is especially tough to peer through when the issue is as highly-charged as discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Based on the information above, I cannot figure out what Ciommo's past positions were, and I'm not sure it is all that important for voters in general. I personally believe that those who support marriage equality ought to give a politician like Ciommo a pass on the issue -- not only because so much has happened so fast in the last few years, but also because the allegations against him are not so simple to disentangle. Since roughly 75% of a District City Councilor's job is in delivering constituent services, voters are more likely to focus on filling potholes, street cleaning, parks -- and institutional expansion. LGBT issues are tangential at best to these basic functions of local government.  Today, Ciommo forcefully states his support for LGBT issues like gay marriage, so he ought to be taken at his word.

The Other Candidates' Positions on Gay Marriage

As for the other candidates...  Hanlon has posted on her website support for marriage equality. Alex Selvig wrote to me that he "support[s] their right to marry, and also that they have full rights as any married couple would under the law." Greg Glennon opposed gay marriage in his 2005 race for state representative, but has not yet, as far as I can tell, expressed a position during the 2007 campaign.  James Jenner wrote to me that he "completely support[s] gay marriage," and that he bases that support, in part, on his strong belief in the separation of church and state.

Now that all the candidates' positions are pretty much out in the open, let's move on.  Except for one related story on surveys...

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