Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s likely presidential campaign has gotten a big boost before it’s even official, as a prominent LGBT group on Monday endorsed Clinton for president.
The group, Equality California, said it has determined that even though she has not entered the race, she would be the best candidate for LGBT issues.
“Although she has yet to formally announce her candidacy, we unequivocally believe that she is not only the most qualified candidate, but also the best candidate to advance LGBT rights,” said Rick Zbur, the executive director of Equality California. “With this unequivocal support of her presidential bid, Equality California decided to take the unusual step to extend an early endorsement of Sec. Clinton to urge her to enter the presidential race.”
Zbur said the group will begin a petition drive encouraging Clinton to run for president. If, as expected, she announces her candidacy, the group will look for ways to work with the campaign to mobilize support. Equality California is the second-largest LGBT organization in the country, boasting more than 800,000 grassroots members.
A Clinton spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment. But the endorsement is a welcome sign at a time when she is facing fresh controversy ahead of an expected run — and will likely soon attempt to rally the Democratic base around her candidacy.
Clinton has been popular with the LGBT community, mostly because of her work in the State Department. But like many Democrats before her, including President Barack Obama, Clinton has been analyzed as too slowly “evolving” on many LGBT issues, and as putting political considerations above her held beliefs.
Clinton made LGBT issues a priority during her time at the State Department, something Equality California noted in its endorsement. At the United Nations in 2011, she declared that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
“She’s really the strongest candidate on LGBT issues that we’ve ever had running,” said Zbur, who noted her support of both marriage equality and full and comprehensive civil rights for the LGBT community. “That’s the foundation. And beyond that, she just has a history of real accomplishment that is unparalleled for almost any candidate running for office.”
Some Democrats, however, have wondered why it took Hillary Clinton so long to come around on LGBT rights, pointing to the policies of the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton, and the fact that she did not officially come out in support of gay marriage until 2013.
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As president, Bill Clinton signed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — which barred open gays and lesbians from serving in the military — and the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriages. She came out in support of gay marriage in 2013, weeks after Bill Clinton wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post urging the Supreme Court to strike down the law he signed as president.
Hillary Clinton became combative when reliving those policies last year in an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross. She took umbrage to the suggestion that political expediency was somehow involved in any of her decision making.
“I think that, as I said, just as the president has said, you know, just because you’re a politician, doesn’t mean you’re not a thinking human being,” Clinton said.
“And you gather information. You think through positions. You’re not 100 percent set — thank goodness — you’re constantly reevaluating where you stand. That was true for me. We talked earlier about Iraq, for goodness sakes. So, for me, marriage had always been a matter left to the states.”
Asked whether she supported gay marriage while she was the nation’s first lady, Clinton said only, “I’m an American. I think we have all evolved.”
But Equality California pointed to Clinton’s work at the State Department and even as a senator. It provided a two-page fact sheet listing her advocacy for the LGBT community. She co-sponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the group noted. She voted to add sexual orientation to the list of hate crimes. And she voted twice — in 2004 and 2006 — against a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
Zbur said that it’s important to view the first Clinton administration within the context of the political environment at the time. He was working at an environmental law firm, and he said he was the only openly gay member of the firm.
“I think what he did in terms of bringing the LGBT community into his political coalition was really unique and courageous at the time,” Zbur said. “I think a lot of what he did and his leadership allowed many of us to begin coming out in the early 90s.”