The Running Mate

When Barack Obama tapped Delaware senator Joseph Biden to be his vice president, he made a good move for gay rights.

BY Julie Bolcer

September 09 2008 11:00 PM ET

Barack Obama & Joe Biden (Getty) | Advocate.com

Biden did,
however, vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996; he
says he supports federally recognized civil unions
that grant same-sex couples the same legal rights as
marriage. Nevertheless, when Fox News asked him in
2003 whether he believed gay marriage was inevitable, the
senator replied, “I think it probably
is.”

With his mix of
gravitas and garrulousness, Biden appears adequately
armed to lead a repeal of the U.S. military’s
“don’t ask, don’t tell” ban
on openly gay service members. He opposed the
policy’s codification in 1993, when it was
championed by then-senator Sam Nunn. Biden continued to
voice his dislike of the policy during a presidential debate
in New Hampshire in June 2007. “Let me tell you
something,” he said. “Nobody asked
anybody else whether they’re gay in those foxholes,
number one.”

Immediately
following the debate, the then–presidential candidate
told The Advocate that if he were elected, he
would simply end the antigay military policy.
“I would issue an executive order saying there
will be no discrimination whatsoever in the military and
everybody will be held to the uniform military code --
so that if two gay people engage in illicit activity
on the base, they’re gone. Just like if two married
people engage on the base, they’re gone.”

While his
enthusiasm may be appreciated, “don’t ask,
don’t tell” is a law enacted by
congressional vote and presidential signature, so its repeal
would likely not be possible by executive order, says
Nathaniel Frank, senior fellow at the Palm Center, a
research organization at the University of California,
Santa Barbara. Instead, it would begin in Congress,
where Biden, currently the sixth longest-serving senator,
has already proven his mettle.

“Senator
Biden has a long history of being a reliable expert on both
foreign affairs and the armed services, which go hand in
hand in the Congress,” says Steve Ralls, former
communications director for Servicemembers Legal
Defense Network and a leading authority on the
military ban. “Throughout his tenure, he has
developed important relationships and has garnered the
respect of many key people who would be important
influencers in the campaign to repeal ‘don’t
ask, don’t tell.’ ”

In a campaign
season marked by promises of renewed hope and trust, Barack
Obama may have delivered with Joe Biden.

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