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February 24. 2012

Kaptur and Kucinich differ on marriage equality

He has long supported it; she voted for the Ohio ban amendment in 2004

Cleveland--LGBT equality is one area where incumbent Democratic Representatives Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich have differences.

The two are facing off in the new Ninth Congressional District created because population decline in Ohio reduced the state’s congressional delegation from 18 to 16. Because of politics played by both Republicans in charge of drawing the new districts and Democrats who influenced them, the new district runs a thin strip of over 120 miles along the north coast of the state from Toledo to Cleveland. The district has a very high rate of poverty.

Kaptur, 65, has represented the Toledo area since 1983 and Kucinich, 65, who represented the west side of greater Cleveland since 1997. The two are usually allies, but are suddenly in a hot contest that has become personal and contentious. It is the most-watched Democratic primary race in the nation. Conventional wisdom is that the race is close, however, and will be determined by turnout.

On most issues, especially core Democratic values and “pocketbook” issues affecting workers, the differences between Kucinich and Kaptur are mostly style.

However, differences sharpen dramatically when the records on LGBT equality are compared, and LGBT voters make up an important and growing constituency in the Democratic Party.

The district was drawn to favor Kaptur over Kucinich, and Kaptur has a larger campaign war chest, in part because of support from military contractors. Kaptur is the leading Democrat on the appropriations committee that funds the military. She is far more hawkish than Kucinich, which is a second major difference between the two.

A third candidate in the race is Graham Veysey, 29, a media-savvy first-time campaigner, who is not expected to win the contest, but is relevant to the debate.

Kucinich’s record on LGBT equality is difficult to top, and he has the endorsements of gay Rep. Barney Frank, the Cleveland Stonewall Democrats, and the Human Rights Campaign.

Kaptur is a relative latecomer to LGBT equality, never scoring higher than 83 percent on the Human Rights Campaign scorecard, but LGBT supporters of hers describe her as “learning” and “evolving.”

Kaptur has moved to a position of support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and she voted with Kucinich to end don’t ask don’t tell, and federalize hate crimes against LGBT victims.

However, she does not support marriage equality, which is currently the area where the federal legislative action affecting LGBT families lies.

While the candidates appeared on Time Warner cable’s In the Spotlight program taped February 13, host Bob Conklin asked if Ohio’s constitutional marriage ban amendment should be repealed.

Veysey and Kucinich said it should. Kucinich campaigned against the amendment in 2004 as both a congressional and presidential candidate.

Kaptur said, “Marriage and family laws are state laws,” inferring that members of Congress have no stake in them.

“I agree with President Obama,” continued Kaptur, “and I think that state by state, our country will evolve and make the right decision.”

Conklin then asked Kaptur if she voted for the amendment. After an eight-second pause showing visible discomfort with the question, Kaptur said, “I probably did.”

In a later interview, Kaptur confirmed that she voted for the 2004 amendment, then on the ballot as Issue 1. She added, “It’s where society was. There’s been progress in the opinion of the country and certainly Ohio.”

Kaptur also voted for the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. That law says that states may ignore same-sex marriages made in other states, and that the federal government cannot recognize them for any purpose. The Obama administration and several courts have decided that the second part is unconstitutional.

Kucinich’s Republican opponent that year, Martin Hoke, also voted for the federal DOMA, which Kucinich used against him in the campaign.

Veysey was in grade school when it passed.

Since passage of DOMA, Kucinich has worked to both repeal it outright, and winnow away at the second part, which denies federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples legally married in six states.

Kucinich is a cosponsor of several bills, including the Uniting American Families Act, which would bring about federal immigration parity and others that narrow the gap on taxation of benefits and pensions, and the Respect for Marriage Act, a total repeal of DOMA.

Kucinich regularly talks about these matters in his stump speeches, and twice as a presidential candidate. He is often a guest on cable news programs talking about the need for equality for same-sex couples.

Kaptur is not a co-sponsor of any of these bills, and during a conversation with the Gay People’s Chronicle, admitted to not knowing much about them.

“It’s not my committee,” Kaptur said, “I have never been involved in family law, and am not an expert in benefits laws in all the states.”

When the Uniting American Families Act was explained to Kaptur, she said, “I will take a look at it. It sounds all right.”

Kaptur said she used to be more comfortable with civil unions, but also knows that LGBT people have never embraced them.

“I am not an ideologue of the left or the right,” Kaptur said.

Asked is she would co-sponsor any of the bills that mitigate or repeal the federal DOMA, Kaptur said, “I would be instructed by the people I represent and by the people in our state.”

“I would be guided by those I represent,” Kaptur said, “I have to respect those who desire change, but also have to respect others who might not be there yet.”

“I’m not a closed-minded person,” Kaptur said. “I listen to all elements. I don’t feel I have heard from a broad array of interests.”

Kaptur said her guiding principles are laws that are “pro-family, regardless of the family’s composition.”

Asked if “pro-family” also means those headed by same-sex couples who are harmed by laws such as DOMA, Kaptur replied, “I am not closed to these families, either.”

Kaptur said she talks about LGBT issues with Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the only out lesbian member of Congress, now a Senate candidate from Wisconsin, about these matters; and that the uncle of her godson is a prominent gay man in Columbus. Other than that, she said there are no other LGBT people in her family.

Of Barney Frank’s endorsement of Kucinich, Kaptur said, “There’s more there than meets the eye.”

“[Frank] and I locked horns over his housing and banking laws. There’s no love lost there.”

Veysey says his youth is an asset on LGBT equality matters and scoffs at the suggestion he, unlike his opponents, has no record.

“I have a record,” he said, explaining that his first campaign was in 2000 in Maine working to protect LGBT equality.

Unlike Kaptur, Veysey says legislating is all about leading, not reflecting views of constituents on issues like equality. “There will be no stronger LGBT ally in the House of Representatives,” said Veysey.

The winner will face Republican Samuel Wurzelbacher in the fall, known as “Joe the Plumber” from the 2008 McCain-Palin presidential campaign.

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