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The Great Ambiguity of a President Lindsey Graham

The Great Ambiguity of a President Lindsey Graham


The South Carolina senator with a mixed record on LGBT issues teased his presidential campaign today, with a formal campaign launch expected June 1.

The latest entrant to the presidential race, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, has a zero percent score on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard but says it may be time to accept a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

And that's the way it goes for most of the South Carolina senator's positions on LGBT equality. Graham told CBS This Morning today that he will formally announce his presidential campaign June 1, explaining, "I'm running because I think the world is falling apart."

Although he was a cosponsor of a 2008 bill that sought to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, earlier this month Graham told Boston Herald Radio that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of a nationwide right for same-sex couples to marry, Republicans should be prepared to accept the decision and move on. Graham noted that he is not convinced the court will issue a ruling in favor of the freedom to marry nationwide, though.

"Things are changing, so at the end of the day, being for traditional marriage without animosity is where I stand," said Graham, according to BuzzFeed. "If the Supreme Court rules sometime this year that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, then that will be a defining moment in that debate. It will be time for us to move forward as a society."

But Graham's earlier comments on marriage equality have been far less conciliatory, frequently claiming that legal marriage equality will lead to legal polygamy. He most prominently advanced that argument during the confirmation hearings for U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, when the South Carolina senator tried to get the nominee to opine on the legal basis for multi-person marriage, should the court find a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Lynch deftly avoided answering the question, noting that the court had not yet ruled on the issue and she had not had the opportunity to fully examine the legal arguments before the court.

In 2013, Graham was one of 10 Republican senators to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would outlaw anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace, when that bill passed the U.S. Senate for the first time in history. The long-languishing legislation subsequently died in the House of Representatives without being brought up for a vote.

The same year, however, Graham voted against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which had been updated to include protections for LGBT victims of violence, notes politician watchdog site

Graham has also gone on record opposing LGBT-inclusive immigration reform, most notably in his membership of the U.S. Senate's "Gang of Eight," tasked with drafting comprehensive immigration reform legislation. "If the [Senate] Judiciary Committee tries to redefine marriage in the immigration bill they will lose me and many others," Graham tweeted in 2013.

The senator has been so dogged by gay rumors that he addressed them directly in a New York Times interview in 2010 following a whisper campaign that threatened to out him. "I ain't gay," he told the Times, after making a joke about being the secret lover of out pop star Ricky Martin, saying such a revelation is "really gonna upset a lot of gay men -- I'm sure hundreds of 'em are gonna be jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge -- but I ain't available."

That same year Graham was an outspoken opponent of efforts to repeal the military's ban on openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members, claiming the Senate had "nowhere near" enough votes to pass a bill repealing the policy known as "don't ask, don't tell." Both chambers of Congress went on to pass the legislation, with President Obama adding his signature to formally repeal the antigay policy just two months after Graham predicted the bill would go nowhere.

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