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Gays Won't Take Clinton's Betrayal Lightly : Gay rights: He will pay for refusing even a 'friend of court' gesture in Colorado case.

June 11, 1995|ROBERT DAWIDOFF | Robert Dawidoff is the co-author with Michael Nava of "Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America" (St. Martin's Press). He is a professor of history at the Claremont Graduate School.

The Justice Department has decided that the government has no interest in the most important gay rights case the Supreme Court will decide, not even to the extent of filing a friend-of-the-court brief.

The case before the court involves a ballot initiative passed in Colorado that would deny anti-discrimination protection to homosexuals.

Although not unexpected, the Administration's refusal to stand behind President Clinton's repeated pledges of support for gay rights, and in particular his statement in a public letter that the initiative threatened "the human rights of every individual," is shocking in its opportunism, hypocrisy and unprincipled cowardice. It must give serious pause to everyone, straight or gay, who values the promise of equality of opportunity, equal protection of the laws and participation in the political process without discrimination.

It isn't hard to figure what led Atty. Gen. Janet Reno to decide that the government has no stake in protecting essential rights when it comes to homosexuals. The Pentagon pressured against the filing of a brief because of the potential for subverting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays in the military. Justice Department lawyers in fact had prepared careful arguments for a brief that avoided subverting that policy.

It is hard to express how disappointing and enraging the Administration's abandonment of principle is. The transparent political cynicism of Reno's decision, made without the President's objection, will send a message to the people who have never supported them and never will and who will respond as if to the scent of blood. It is not clear what effect a government brief or lack of one will have on the closely divided Supreme Court. But this latest betrayal worsens the situation of lesbian and gay Americans and any other individuals or groups who thought they could count on Clinton's goodwill if not his promises.

The election of 1996 is shaping up to be the most problematic in memory. It is truly alarming to envision a Republican President alongside a Republican Congress with the extremist political views now commonly espoused by that party. But the prospect of working for, supporting and helping to pay for the reelection of President Clinton is not much better. He and his attorney general have shown where they really stand: with the anti-gay extremists.

I used to think, as Clinton thought I would, that I would have to vote for him. But now all bets are off for me and many other lesbian and gay voters like me. Gay people should consider alternatives to renominating Clinton. We should devote our money and energy to electing gay and lesbian candidates and those others whose good offices we can count on. We should learn the lesson that other minority groups have had to learn: that all the pre-election talk in the world doesn't matter unless you have leverage after election. And leverage is the result of organizing, bargaining and being willing to make trouble for your supposed allies when they betray you.

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