As political convention coverage saturated the airwaves in late August, few developments stirred as much excitement as the highly anticipated announcements of vice presidential running mates.
Among Democrats, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the first African-American presidential candidate nominated by a major American party, selected Senator Joseph Biden, Jr. of Delaware on August 23. Biden, 65, brings nearly four decades of Washington experience and foreign policy substance to Obama, 47, whose youth and lack of an executive resume are potential weaknesses in the general election campaign.
Although not a high-profile LGBT advocate, Biden demonstrates a solid equality record, achieving an average rating of 84 percent on scorecards published by the Human Rights Campaign since 1989. While opposed to same-sex marriage, like Obama, he supports civil unions that grant the same legal rights as marriage, and opposed the federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2006. He also supports LGBT adoption rights, and employment non-discrimination legislation and hate crimes protections for gender identity. He champions repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prohibits gays and lesbians from serving openly, calls for immigration benefits for same-sex partners of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and recently helped to end the HIV travel and immigration ban.
A shorter record is available for Sarah Palin, the running mate picked by 72-year-old Republican presidential nominee Senator John McCain of Arizona. He rocked the political establishment on August 29 when he selected Palin, the first-term governor of Alaska, to be the first woman on a Republican ticket, and only the second woman in history on a major party ticket after Geraldine Ferraro, who ran as vice president for the Democrats in 1984. The choice appears calculated to appeal to women, social conservatives and much-sought-after independent voters.
Palin, 44, holds a reputation as a reformer who challenged ethical lapses in her party during her ascent to the governor’s post in 2006. She served as the ethics commissioner of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, and as mayor of the little-known small town of Wassila. A married mother of five, she is ardently pro-life, a former first runner-up in the Miss Alaska beauty pageant and a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.
As governor for less than two years, Palin brings a slim record on LGBT issues that appears unsupportive. In the biggest debate on LGBT issues to transpire during her tenure, in December 2006, she complied with a state supreme court order, resisted by legislators, to give health and retirement benefits to same-sex partners of state employees, citing the constitutionality of the directive. She afterward encouraged a nonbinding, statewide advisory vote for residents to express whether or not they wanted to consider a constitutional amendment to ban the benefits. While the advisory vote passed marginally, no amendment has been forthcoming. Personally, Palin has said that she opposes same-sex marriage, as well as benefits for the same-sex partners of state employees.