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Boxer's Final Push

Boxer's Final Push


Barbara Boxer has been the Golden's State's fiery junior senator from the Left Coast since 1993 and, until this year, never seriously stared down the barrel of defeat. But a toxic political climate, combined with Republican challenger and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina's deep pockets, has given the liberal stalwart a run for her money.

A new California Field Poll shows her maintaining an eight-point lead over Fiorina -- but not without the help of Democrats, who have pulled out all the stops to save the U.S. Senate from going the way of the House, poised for a Republican takeover in the midterm election Tuesday. President Barack Obama has made several trips in recent months stumping for Boxer at San Francisco and Los Angeles rallies (events often protested by the LGBT direct action group GetEqual).

Despite the presidential backing, Senator Boxer has made clear her opposition to the administration's appeal in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States of America, in which a federal judge in September ruled "don't ask, don't tell" unconstitutional. In between campaign stops in Los Angeles earlier this week, Boxer spoke to The Advocate about DADT, her LGBT voting record, and the now-famous "ma'am" incident at a 2009 Senate hearing -- one that detractors, including gay conservatives, have used as the basis for attack ads in the campaign.

The Advocate: Where do you and your opponent differ on gay rights issues?
Barbara Boxer: Fiorina has never been in office, so I can't talk with authority about it. I can tell you she does not support marriage equality. And I do, and that's very clear. An outside group [the National Organization for Marriage] is advertising against me in the Latino community because of my support for marriage equality.

On "don't ask, don't tell," I don't know where she is on that, I don't think anyone has ever asked her that, but I would just like to see it settled now; it's done. And of course I have a long record; my opponent doesn't have any record here that I'm aware of at all, and my record goes to just everything you can imagine. I voted against the Defense of Marriage Act, I've been a long supporter of the Ryan White CARE Act, I tried to stop "don't ask, don't tell" from going into effect in 1993, I was the one who offered an amendment to stop it. On marriage equality I was a strong opponent of Prop. 8. Hate crimes [legislation], I was a stronger supporter there. So I don't know what else to say to you except that I've had this long, long record, and I don't know what her position is on all of these things, except for sure on marriage, it's pretty clear.

You've been unequivocal in opposing "don't ask, don't tell." Yet the Justice Department is asking for the status quo in the Log Cabin Republicans lawsuit, to keep the policy in place pending appeal. If that happens the policy, will continue to ruin military careers. Is it sense-making to have a moratorium on discharges of gay service members?
Absolutely. I support having the court's decision stand. And by the way, [U.S. district judge] Virginia Phillips was my recommendation to the court, and she wrote that opinion. Which I'm so proud of that. I don't think that ought to be appealed, I think it ought to just end. Because it's a civil rights issue. And so of course I would support a moratorium. I think the order should stand.

That's not the same position that the Obama administration has taken.
[President Obama] says that he has to do this, that Congress has to repeal it, to make sure it never comes back again. So that's his opinion. I just know what I feel. I feel like it should end now. That's all.

Why is there not yet a Senate bill calling for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act?
I don't think the [gay rights organizations] have asked us to put that forward at this point. So basically they will usually talk to us about what they want to get behind. Just to put in a bill -- you want to get action on it, you want to move on it. [Right now we're] focused on "don't ask, don't tell."

Would you support a DOMA repeal bill?
Yes. I never voted for [DOMA] in the first place.

Moving forward, what are your goals for gay issues in the Senate?
"Don't ask, don't tell" right now has got to be on the top of the list. We think we have enough votes to get rid of it in the United States Senate, but it was filibustered. So I'd like us take it up in the lame-duck [session].

How would you judge the Democratic administration and the Democratically controlled Congress in the last two years when it comes to gay rights legislation?
I'm not going to talk about anybody else. I'm going to talk about what I do. Seriously. I am responsible, and I am so proud of the support I've gotten from the community, and I'm pushing hard. It is clear that there are people from all over the country, whose constituencies, you know, just don't want to see this positive change. But I do. So I don't judge other people. It's not my job. But my job is to push for change and push for equality and push for civil rights, but I'm not going to call somebody out and say they should do more. I've got to just lead by example.

How do you feel about prospects for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act? It has not progressed in the way many of us had expected or were promised by Congress.

I think ENDA has a very good chance of passing, I really do.

But at what point?
Very soon. I think so. I think it's [a bill] that has more support. I think "don't ask, don't tell," ENDA -- hate crimes, we got that done. Nobody thought we could get it done. And we did it. And I think we can do it with ENDA.

And it helps when the families speak out. With hate crimes, when we had Matthew Shepard's mom come to meet with our caucus, it was so humanizing, it was so important. So I think that's part of it. We have to keep telling the personal stories, like we're doing on "don't ask, don't tell": the human face on these issues.

In attack ads, your opponent -- as well as GOProud, a gay conservative group -- has made hay of your comments directed at Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, who called you "ma'am" during a committee hearing last year. What's your reaction?
People have the right to their opinion. All I was doing was suggesting that in a formal hearing it was better to call each other by our titles.
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