2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates LGBTQ+ Stances & Histories
June is Pride Month, a time to celebrate the power and history of the LGBTQ+ community. June also means that presidential hopefuls are gearing up their campaigns, as the Iowa caucus grows nearer. Let’s take a look at each major Presidential candidates’ (Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Harris) history and plans surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
Joe Biden, known for his love of ice cream, President Obama, and unsolicited back rubs, served as Delaware’s senator from 1973 to 2009, and then after a few failed runs for President, he served alongside President Barack Obama as the 47th Vice President from 2009 through 2017. Over the course of his long career as a politician, Biden has “flip-flopped” on many issues, from abortion to bus segregation, and the LGBTQ+ community is not safe from this inconsistency either.
In the 1990s Biden stood against same-sex marriage multiple times. While Biden often states that context is needed, other equally seasoned candidates such as Sanders and Warren have much stronger positive records on such bills than he. Biden supported a handful of anti-same-sex marriage bills in the 1990s, including the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which explicitly outlined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Until his on-air admittance of marital support in 2012, Biden had only stood for civil unions.
Biden said he was “absolutely comfortable” with the notion of same-sex marriage live on national television in 2012. In his book, Biden he admitted surprised President Obama as this somewhat forced the President to push for its legalization. He also shared that he ran into some controversy with other world leaders in regard to pushing for LGBT rights. He went on to officiate a wedding, making him the first and only Vice President to officiate a same-sex wedding (there is very little chance that Vice President Mike Pence will ever partake in officiating such a union). After his time in the Eisenhower Offices concluded, he went on to advocate for LGBT rights through his Biden Foundation, and to win an award for his LGBT support from the Democratic National Convention (DNC). In his 2012 interview, he shared, “Men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction beyond that.”
Bernie Sanders is a somewhat brash, corporation tackling democratic socialist who serves as Vermont’s senator (since 2007). This is his second bid for president after he lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Sanders has long championed for LGBT rights and outlined protective plans with the reboot of his campaign. In 2015 he told the New York Times, “I’m not evolving when it comes to gay rights. I was there.”
As early as 1983 Bernie Sanders helped Burlington, Vermont organize their first pride parade. Sanders was one of the few Senators who stood against Defense Of Marriage Act, the bill that Biden embraced and now says requires “context.” Sanders stood against the Clinton’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell bill which allowed gay Americans to serve in the military so long as they hid their sexuality. This also continued the statutory ban on LGBTQ+ people serving in the military. Despite Sander’s vocal opposition to the bill and vote against it, the bill passed and thousands of gay soldiers were discharged.
In 1999, Sander’s rejected DC’s anti-same-sex parent adoption bill. That same year, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the state had to guarantee protections and benefits to gay couples, which came very close to legalizing marriage, and Sanders supported and approved the ruling, stating, “I applaud that decision. Vermont has once again shown itself to be a leader in the struggle for human rights.”
Sanders announced his support of same-sex marriage in 2009, while some say it wasn’t soon enough, and he was too focused on ensuring reelection to stand up for the right thing. Sanders only supported civil unions until 2006, which continues to be an area that dents his credibility as an LGBTQ+ ally.
On the campaign trail in 2016, Sanders blasted the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which is the largest LGBTQ+ lobbying organization in the United States, calling them an establishment. The HRC has repeatedly been called out for serving the wealthy, as opposed to those they claim as constituents. Sanders lost the HRC’s endorsement, but retained his 100% approval status from them, as he continues to support issues like the Equality Act.
Elizabeth Warren is the former teacher, professor, and lawyer currently seeking to protect the middle class as a Senator from Massachusetts (since 2013), and running for the Presidency. Warren, known for her plans, has seen a massive surge of support in the past few weeks and is taking this chance to get ahead in the crowded race. Warren has long supported the LGBTQ+ community, though she is yet to present a clear plan for this community in the way that candidates such as Gillibrand have released.
Warren established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has supported and protected LGBTQ+ Americans.
She scored a perfect score from the HRC and repeatedly called for the legalization of same-sex marriage. She was willing to call out President Obama, telling him it was time to act. She struck back against Chief Justice Roberts, stating, “Our Constitution had everything to do with it — with the liberty of two adults to have their love treated the same as that of any other couple. And it is because of the tireless work of jurists, lawyers, husbands like Jim Obergefell, and countless other LGBT Americans who stepped forward to speak out, that our nation will no longer look away from what our Constitution requires.”
Warren has fought conversion therapy, the barring of men who are sexually active with men from donating blood, and the Trump administration’s transgender military ban. Warren has supported the current Equality Act, and released campaign videos that reference and feature same-sex couples. In 2012, Warren voted against allowing court-ordered gender-confirmation surgery for a trans prisoner, claiming it was a poor use of taxpayer dollars. In 2015, Warren did not express a change in these beliefs when prompted. This, however, was a highly controversial case, as the convict was a murderer, and this vote is considered a minor blemish on a seemingly consistent record of pro-LGBTQ+ advocacy.
Pete Buttigieg is the millennial mayor making waves with his impressive resume. Buttigieg is the first openly gay man to run for President and is gaining impressive traction. Buttigieg came out in 2015, sharing that he simply was ready to date. He met his husband Chasten, a school teacher, online, and the two got married in 2018. Buttigieg is the first and only gay man to enter the race and is using his personal experience to offer insights that other candidates cannot.
Buttigieg has not shied away from sharing his personal experience as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or even displaying affection with his husband, which shot down some people who had claimed he wasn’t “gay enough.”
Buttigieg went on Rachel Maddow in April of 2019 where he had a candid and heartfelt conversation with her about their coming out experiences, and experiences as gay Rhodes Scholars. Maddow was the first openly gay American male to become a Rhodes Scholar, and Buttigieg shared that he felt pressure to hide his sexuality for a period of time, even with people like her paving the way. Buttigieg admitted that during his youth he would “have done anything to not be gay.” Buttigieg now shared that he is very thankful there was no way to change his sexuality. These remarks were made during a brunch for the Victory Fund, in DC. Buttigieg received a standing ovation for sharing his story, that reportedly “lasted longer than the applause for any other speaker.”