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After eight years of avoidance by the Bush administration, will Obama or McCain champion gay rights in American foreign policy?



Gay Pride March Warsaw 2004 x390 (Getty) |

candidates’ differences aren’t always so
black-and-white, though. The Uniting American Families
Act, for instance, which would provide a mechanism for
foreign-born same-sex partners to immigrate to the United
States, has languished in Congress for years. Neither
nominee has unreservedly embraced the bill -- but the
differing tones of their stated reservations speak
volumes. McCain spokesman Taylor Griffin says the
senator “would oppose using any federal statute to
intervene in this area,” while Obama spokesman
Ben LaBolt says his candidate “strongly
supports equal treatment for LGBT binational couples under
our immigration laws.” However, he wants to
“minimize the potential for fraud and
abuse,” ostensibly because heterosexuals might try to
scam the system.

Granted, the bill
might not progress under either president -- it’s up
to Congress, really, though the White House helps set
the legislative agenda (particularly if one party
controls both branches of government). But if the bill
continues in a holding pattern, changing immigration laws
for gay couples by other means is virtually impossible
because of the Defense of Marriage Act, says Rachel B.
Tiven, executive director of Immigration Equality.
Obama avidly supports repealing DOMA, while McCain does not.

The next
president could also engage in diplomacy on human rights
abuses suffered by gay people around the world, and on
that point, both candidates seem to agree. McCain
“believes that every person is born in freedom
and that we have a moral obligation not to turn a blind eye
to assaults on the collective dignity of humanity
wherever they occur,” says spokesman Griffin,
and he’s willing to use “all appropriate means
to defend democracy and human rights.” Obama
spokesman LaBolt offers a similar (if more specific)
position: “Obama will exert diplomatic pressure
and employ other foreign policy tools to encourage other
nations to address human rights abuses and atrocities
committed against LGBT men and women.”

If there were an
irony to American intervention on these issues, it would
be this: It’s hard to be a credible champion for gay
rights internationally when you’re not exactly
an emblem of them. “The U.S. should start by
changing its own policies regarding LGBT people -- only
then will it have a legitimate voice with which to urge
other countries to do the same,” says Paula
Ettelbrick, executive director of the International
Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, adding that
repealing “don’t ask, don’t
tell” and DOMA, and decisively removing the ban
on HIV-positive travelers would be good starts. “Only
those governments who have taken seriously their human
rights obligations are in a position to influence

Tags: Politics