Harvey Milk and The National Defense Authorization Act

Yesterday, the House, in voting to approve The National Defense Authorization Act, the bill that authorizes spending at the Defense and Veterans Department for things like construction, maintenance, and remodeling, Republicans practiced political jujitsu. At the last possible minute, they provided “magical votes” to vote down an amendment that Sean Patrick Maloney, an openly gay Congressman from New York, added baring discrimination against gay employees of contractors being given contracts. Steny Hoyer, the House Minority leader, had secured enough votes to pass the amendment.

Congressman Hoyer, the best vote counter in the House, knew something was afoot when 7 Republican Congressmen changed their votes electronically. The amendment lost, and the House, usually stuffy and constrained, erupted. Democratic House members, realizing the chicanery that had just been used, started chanting, “Shame, shame, shame.” Paul Ryan, always eager to avoid looking like the Republican shill that he is, was conveniently at his weekly press conference. When asked about the Jujitsu move, he smoothly replied that, obviously, he wasn’t in the House, he was at the press conference.

The bill had previously passed the Senate, and Obama is threatening a veto, so the outcome is unclear today. But, and here is the point, one has to think of Harvey Milk, and really marvel at how far gay rights have come. Milk, the openly gay City Supervisor of San Francisco who was elected in 1977 and assassinated in 1978, always told anyone who would listen that the only thing that gays needed to do was to come out, and that their sheer numbers would provide their acceptance. He was, of course, right.

House Democrats, serious about, and committed to, gay rights, have come a long way. To see Steny Hoyer, a generation removed from the great gay battles, genuinely outraged, was bracing. House Democrats, taking their responsibilities to gay Americans seriously, showed real outrage – which wouldn’t have been true even 10 years ago. So, Harvey was right. His fighting words, and his example, worked. Gays need not wonder who stands up for them.

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