I was not there, and so I am forced to take Mr. McDonnell at his word. But his record shows something else, entirely.
The fact is that as Attorney General, Mr. McDonnell repeatedly used his official position and powers to discriminate against gay men and women in Virginia. The volume and circumstances of his involvement as Attorney General in cases involving gay rights issues suggests that Mr. McDonnell harbors hostility against a substantial number of Virginians that calls into question whether he is fit to be Governor. Mr. McDonnell should not be permitted to paper over this record with meaningless, insincere promises.
This is not about gay rights or one’s attitudes toward gay people – like anyone, Mr. McDonnell is entitled to his personal opinion -- but rather the question is: Do we want leaders who would use our own government as a tool to discriminate, in law or in fact, against a significant portion of the population it represents, whether because they are gay, persons or color, Jewish, or whatever.
For me, the answer is, “No.”
Here is Mr. McDonnell’s sorry record:
* On his web site, under the Orwellian rubric of “protecting families,” Mr. McDonnell touts the fact that while in the GA he was a chief sponsor of the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution, which purported to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, but in fact was clearly designed to legitimize discrimination again people on the basis of sexual orientation. Of no small consequence, nationwide the tide seems to be turning on this issue, and Virginia now runs a risk of being left behind other states in creating a welcoming, tolerant environment for all people that is conducive to economic development and advancement.
* As Attorney General, Mr. McDonnell lost no time issuing an opinion to countermand the executive order by both Governors Warner and Kaine to bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Whatever the legal effect of the ruling, McDonnell’s legal reasoning was shoddy enough that it led the Virginia ACLU to conclude, “It is distressing when clouded judgment and poor lawyering by a high government official leads him to conclusions that are clearly at odds with common sense, common decency and the law.”
* In early 2007, after The Christopher Newport University board banned discrimination in matters of admissions and employment based on sexual orientation, Attorney General Bob McDonnell took the time to write the school to tell them, as the publication Inside Higher Ed put it, “it would not be legal for the university (or other public institutions in the state, which have done the same thing) to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.” Wow! So, according to Bob McDonnell, even if an institution wants to make discrimination illegal, it cannot do so.
* As Attorney General, Bob McDonnell intervened in a private lawsuit among members of the Episcopal Church in a dispute that had gay rights at its core. In a protest over gay priests, dissident members left the church, but filed suit seeking to retain church property. Mr. McDonnell, needless to say, sought to intervene in the case on the side of the anti-gay dissidents, ostensibly in defense of a state statute. But the dispute was a religious and social one, above all else, not a Constitutional one. A real estate attorney told the Washington Post that McDonnell’s intervention in the case “was a little out of the ordinary.” Perhaps more interesting, was this, as the Post reported:
McDonnell's office has another connection to this issue -- his deputy, former state senator William C. Mims (R), who has been a member of another Episcopal church that broke away from the national church over the same issues of how to understand Scripture as it pertains to homosexuality. Mims prompted controversy and much debate in 2005 when he -- as a senator -- proposed a bill that would have explicitly allowed congregants who leave their denominations to keep their land. The measure failed, and opponents said it was an inappropriate insertion of government into church affairs.
Look, I understand that in each case, McDonnell had some ulterior motive to defend his actions, whether a bogus defense of the definition of marriage, or an imagined threat to the constitutionality of a state law, or perhaps simply poor legal reasoning, but taken as a whole, McDonnell’s record raises serious questions as to whether in his performance in office he used his powers to pursue his own social agenda.
So, when Mr. McDonnell vows not to discriminate as Governor, it rings hollow to me. Oh, if Bob McDonnell is elected governor, he probably won’t explicitly discriminate against the gay Virginians he seems to dislike so much – Mr. McDonnell is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them.
But then again, he won’t need to. Like the insidious bigotry directed at groups throughout this country’s history, whether black, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, or even Mr. McDonnell’s own Irish ancestral background, Mr. McDonnell has already hung up a sign outside his Richmond office: “Gay people need not apply.”