WORTHY CONTENDER

32 Years Before Marriage Equality, Bernie Sanders Fought For Gay Rights

bernie2These days, you’d be hard pressed to find a Democrat with any sort of antigay platform — hell, even the Republicans are starting to realize that to be relevant in 2015 and beyond, you’ve got to move past the “gay issue.”

But these are only very recent developments. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may be champions of same-sex marriage now, but you don’t have to go far back to find a time when they weren’t. And hey, we’re happy to have their evolved support.

“A decade ago politicians ran against LGBT rights; today, they’re running towards them,” Obama said once in a speech, leaving out the fact that he is one of those politicians.

But you know who wasn’t? Well, assuming you’ve already read the headline, you’re right: Bernie Sanders.

Not only did Sanders vote against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, signed into law by then-president Bill Clinton — an unpopular position then — a look back at Sanders’ political career shows consistent support of the gay rights movement. Even when it was more than just unpopular, it was downright controversial.

In 1983, two years into Sanders’ run as mayor of Burlington, VT, local gay rights leaders planned the city’s first ever pride parade and called on the Board of Aldermen to designate June 25 Lesbian and Gay Pride Day.

Those opposing the designation were as committed as they were vitriolic. The Vermont branch of the Maranatha Christian Church wrote at the time:

“We will express our sympathy with the sick humanity that is involved in this sin but can in no way on God’s earth and in light of His scripture condone or even sit back and not voice God’s word.”

Sanders threw in his full support at the meeting, and the board voted 6 to 5 to pass the resolution.

“In our democratic society, it is the responsibility of government to safeguard civil liberties and civil rights — especially the freedom of speech and expression,” Sanders wrote later in a memo. “In a free society, we must all be committed to the mutual respect of each others [sic] lifestyle.”

pridemarch1984

The parade was a success, but not long after, Burlington resident Maikel Carder was beaten up on Church St. on the suspicion that he was gay. It didn’t matter that he was actually straight — the two events became linked.

“As morals keep slipping, will we eventually celebrate Murderer’s Day, Rapist’s Day, Alcoholic’s Day, Dope Day, Arsonist’s Day and Child Molester’s Day, or will a greater power give us The Day of Reckoning? Stand up, you weirdos, and give your brains an airing,” read one of the more colorful responses.

But Sanders was unfazed. The following year he signed a resolution recommending that all levels of government support gay rights, and the year after that in 1985 (the same year then-president Reagan finally said the word ‘AIDS’ in public), he wrote:

“It is my very strong view that a society which proclaims human freedom as its goal, as the United States does, must work unceasingly to end discrimination against all people. I am happy to say that this past year, in Burlington, we have made some important progress by adopting an ordinance which prohibits discrimination in housing. This law will give legal protection not only to welfare recipients, and families with children, the elderly and the handicapped — but to the gay community as well.”

Compare that to the fact that 32 years later there are many parts of the country that still have no such housing protections, and we aren’t surprised Sanders has been able to stir up the grass roots for his 2016 bid.

via Seven Days