Pie-in-the-Sky Presidency?

The prospect of the nation’s first black president sparks the hope that a gay president is drawing nearer.

BY Julie Bolcer

August 13 2008 12:00 AM ET

Presidential Seal smaller (Getty) | Advocate.com

There have
already been plenty of gay political trailblazers. Since
1974, when Elaine Noble became the first openly gay
candidate elected to public office (the Massachusetts
house of representatives), the number of out
politicians has steadily increased. According to the Gay and
Lesbian Victory Fund, 49 openly gay elected officials
held office when the organization launched in May
1991; today, the group counts nearly 500. But there
has yet to be a gay equivalent to Wilder, Braun, Powell, or
Rice -- an openly gay candidate who has won or been
appointed to one of those statewide or national
positions that are the usual launching pads for the
White House. That’s one of several hurdles.

Another
significant obstacle is the law. It’s not illegal for
a gay man or woman to be president. But can you
envision a commander in chief who couldn’t
serve openly in the military? Or a president whose marriage
isn’t recognized by the federal government? So
“don’t ask, don’t tell”
and the Defense of Marriage Act will have to be overturned
first. And count on needing passage of the Employment
Non-Discrimination Act too. After all, who would want
a president who, while at work in the White House,
couldn’t be guaranteed freedom from discrimination
based on sexual orientation?

Considering these
difficulties, what are the chances of a leading gay
presidential contender by 2016? Not very good, says Patrick
Egan, assistant professor of politics at New York
University. He points to a December Gallup poll in
which only 56% of respondents said they would vote for
a well-qualified candidate who happens to identify as
“homosexual.” That was only 10 points higher
than the number of respondents who said they would
support that perennial nonstarter in U.S. politics,
the atheist. “Those numbers look like the numbers for
electing a black president did 40 or 50 years
ago,” Egan says.

Yet as the Obama
phenomenon attests, even the far-fetched can happen,
particularly when a whole generation of voters turns a
candidacy into a bona fide movement.

“I think
the youth vote will be the biggest factor,” says gay
superdelegate Jason Rae, who at 21 is the youngest person
ever elected to the Democratic National Committee. He
estimates that it will be about 30 years -- when an
older generation of voters will be replaced by younger
ones -- before a gay or lesbian presidential candidate will
be viable.

That any
potential nominee ought to be brilliant and charismatic goes
without saying. But when breaking the bias barrier, minority
candidates must also reflect their minority status in
a “nonthreatening” way.

Tags: Politics

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