Six hours passed on the debate stages between President Obama and Mitt Romney and Vice President Joe Biden and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, but there was not a single mention of the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual" or "transgender."
And, despite multiple ballot issues relating to same-sex couples' marriage rights, Obama's May announcement of support for marriage equality and Romney's support for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from marrying, there was not a single question or direct comment made about the marriage issue.
The closest to a reference to LGBT issues was a brief, non-specific mention by President Obama — in a question about women's pay disparity — about how fighting discrimination "in every walk of life" has been "one of the hallmarks of [his] administration."
The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart wrote that this "silence is golden" for supporters of LGBT rights because it shows that the issues, so divisive in the recent past, just don't pack the same electoral punch they once did. One of the drawbacks, however, is that the candidates' visions and, more concretely, plans for moving the country on these issues have not been clearly enunciated.
With two weeks to go until the 2012 presidential election comes to an end, LGBT voters and others who care about LGBT issues are being asked by the Obama campaign to take cues based on past performance from Obama — which echoes the Romney campaign's criticism that Obama's is a campaign without a plan for a second term.
"President Obama will continue to advocate on the community’s behalf on issues such as the repeal of the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act,’" Obama spokeswoman Clo Ewing told BuzzFeed on Tuesday. "LGBT voters will overwhelmingly support the President’s re-election because he’s been a strong advocate for the LGBT community and because he has a concrete and specific second-term plan to continue restoring economic security to the middle class.”
Log Cabin Republicans went a step further in terms of the way LGBT voters are supposed to find security on LGBT issues from Romney. While criticizing Romney's support for the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, the group on Tuesday gave Romney their "qualified" support and pushed off concern about his support for the amendment by disclaiming it as "an empty promise made to a vocal but shrinking constituency."
The party platforms, it is true, lay out specific positions — but they both do so on a broad level that need not relate to actual plans, let alone priorities, come Jan. 20, 2013.
From workplace nondiscrimination protections, which both Log Cabin Republicans and the Obama-endorsing Human Rights Campaign back in the form of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, to marriage equality, there remain unanswered questions about how far to the left or to the right either candidate might move after Election Day.
This is not to say there aren't differences — at times, stark — between the two candidates on the issues traditionally advanced by LGBT rights groups. On almost all of those measures, Obama comes out on top. (The conservative group GOProud and, to a lesser extent, Log Cabin, say that, despite those measures, Romney is superior to Obama on economic and foreign policy issues that, the groups argue, would benefit LGBT people.)
What is missing is an agenda or specific plan for what will happen with LGBT rights come 2013. The response of the Human Rights Campaign, which endorsed Obama's re-election more than a year ago, to a request for information about Obama's plans for a second term was emblematic of this.
"President Obama has done more than any other sitting president to improve conditions for LGBT Americans, and we’re confident a second Obama administration will continue to fight for the advancements our community critically needs," HRC's vice president for communications, Fred Sainz, told BuzzFeed.
Romney advisers have said many Obama executive orders and administrative regulations are in their sights for reversal under a Romney presidency, and it's not clear whether any actions relating to LGBT issues — from Education Department initiatives to the Health and Human Services Department's regulation regarding hospital visitation rights — would be continued in a Romney administration.
If the House stays in Republican control, meanwhile, then neither the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (to ban LGBT workplace discrimination explicitly) nor the Respect for Marriage Act (to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act) would appear to have any chance of passage.
The Obama administration and campaign have not commented since April on whether they would take administrative action, for example, to ban federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In April, the Obama administration announced that it would not be issuing such an order at that time.
Romney, meanwhile, has expressed opposition to employment discrimination against gay people, but he and his campaign have not given a clear answer about what he would do with ENDA if Congress were to pass the long-sought legislation. (There is, even today, significant debate about this point.)
The Post's Capehart wrote that "after years of gays being used in bigoted ways as wedges in American politics by Democrats and Republicans, the silence is a blessed relief."
But the silence also means that, come November 7, LGBT advocates — regardless of who wins — will be moving into overdrive to try and give voice to plans that were not enunciated in the debates or elsewhere.
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
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