Amid controversy about the Democratic presidential candidate's support for the rights of same-sex couples, the John Kerry for President campaign on Tuesday unveiled two new efforts to win over gay and lesbian voters. The first, Pride Across America, will have the campaign setting up tables or booths at 60 pride celebrations in 22 "battleground" states. "This is really unprecedented," said Mark Seifert, director of LGBT outreach for John Kerry. "Neither the [Democratic National Committee] nor a presidential candidate have ever gotten this involved in our community." The program is a grassroots effort to recruit volunteers, Siefert said. The second program, known as Ripple of Hope, is aimed at raising $500,000 in campaign donations from the gay community.
During a conference call announcing the new initiatives, out lesbian Democratic congresswoman Tammy Baldwin hailed the presumptive nominee as the most pro-gay presidential candidate in history. When asked about Kerry's publicly stated opposition to full marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, Baldwin said the issue should be considered in the right context. "Bill Clinton was the first president to ever utter the words 'gay' or 'lesbian,'" she said. "John Kerry brings that several steps further. It's rather unprecedented, especially at a time when we have a president who is trying to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. All of us recognize that the reason this issue is before the Congress is because this president wants to rev up his right wing. Presidential candidate Kerry is going to name that."
Kerry has stated that he believes marriage should be reserved for the union of "a man and a woman" and that the issue should be left to the states to decide. While opposing the proposed federal constitutional marriage ban, Kerry has said he would support a constitutional ban in his home state of Massachusetts as long as it permitted gay and lesbian couples to have marriage rights through civil unions. As a U.S. senator in 1996, Kerry voted against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages while allowing individual states to do the same.