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McCain leaves complicated legacy on LGBT rights Arizona Republican succumbs to brain cancer at age 81 By CHRIS JOHNSON Sen. John McCain, who died Saturday at 81, leaves a legacy of patriotism, service to country — and being a thorn in the side of President Trump — but his legacy on LGBT issues is more complicated. Throughout his decades in Congress, the Arizona Republican took widely different stances on LGBT issues — at times mocking them as unimportant, at other times embracing equal rights for the LGBT community. McCain would often oppose LGBT rights to align with his party and for the sake of political expediency, although the general direction of the positions he took as time went on demonstrated increasing acceptance of LGBT people. Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, said in a statement McCain’s growing acceptance of LGBT rights is consistent with many Americans. “John McCain’s journey to a more supportive place on a number of LGBTQ issues is one that is familiar to so many Americans,” Davis said. “His evolution is reflective of the growing awareness that each and every one of us share the same values and the same aspirations, and we all strive toward building a more perfect nation.” An early test for McCain on LGBT issues during his career in the Senate came in 1993, when lawmakers were debating gays in the military in response to then-President Clinton’s call to lift the administrative ban on their service. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain was part of the deliberation that ended with lawmakers passing the statutory ban on military service that came to be known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Three years later in 1996, McCain continued his opposition to LGBT rights when he was one of 84 senators to vote in support of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal prohibition on the recognition of same-sex marriage. At around this time, former Rep. Jim Kolbe, McCain’s fellow congressman from Arizona who was closeted at the time, angered LGBT

Sen. John McCain died Saturday of brain cancer at 81. Blade File Photo by Michael Key

activists for his vote in favor of DOMA. LGBT activists, including the then-publishers of the Washington Blade, threatened to out Kolbe over his vote, but Kolbe pre-empted them by coming out as gay. Despite the political risk of coming out at the time, McCain came to his friend’s aid and said Kolbe’s coming out hadn’t “caused much of a ripple” in Arizona. “I think Jim Kolbe has the respect and appreciation of most Arizonans,” McCain said. “I believe if he ran for re-election, he wouldn’t have much difficulty.” McCain’s prediction proved correct. Kolbe would be re-elected and go on to serve another six terms in Congress before retiring in 2007. In an interview Sunday with the Arizonabased Kronkite News, Kolbe said having McCain’s support when coming out as gay was important. “In fact, before I could even tell him, he put up his hand and said, ‘Jim, don’t worry about it, you’re my friend, you’re always going to be my friend, and it’s not going to make any difference,’ before I even got the words out of my mouth,” Kolbe said. “And so, he was intensely loyal to people that he liked, and he was certainly intensely loyal to me.” Nearly a decade after the DOMA vote, McCain took a position aligned with the goals of the LGBT community in 2004 and

2006 when he broke with his party and opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, a measure pushed by President George W. Bush that would have changed the U.S. Constitution to prevent the legalization of same-sex marriage. At a time when support for LGBT rights wasn’t popular and most Americans opposed same-sex marriage, McCain’s position as one of the few Republicans to oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment was distinctive. Although McCain acknowledged on the Senate floor opponents of the amendment contended it was “purposely divisive, discriminatory and intended to deny some Americans their right to the pursuit of happiness,” the Arizona Republican’s stated reason for opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment was federalism grounds. “The legal definition of marriage has always been left to the states to decide, in accordance with the prevailing standards of their neighborhoods and communities,” McCain said. “Certainly, that view has prevailed for many years in my party where we adhere to a rather stricter federalism than has always been the case in the prevailing views among our friends in the Democratic Party.” Consistent with that federalism approach, McCain was a vocal supporter in 2006 of a proposed state constitutional amendment

at the ballot in Arizona seeking to prohibit same-sex marriage and even appeared in a campaign calling for its passage. (Ironically, the Arizona amendment in 2006 was the first anti-gay marriage amendment to fail at the ballot, although voters in the state corrected that by passing a different version of the amendment in 2008. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would eventually strike down the amendment as unconstitutional.) Unlike other politicians, McCain never evolved on the issue of same-sex marriage and continued to oppose it even after the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 in favor of marriage equality nationwide. In 2008, McCain embarked on his presidential run and won the nomination to run against Barack Obama for the White House. Seeking to appeal to a nationwide audience, McCain reached out to the LGBT community through an interview with the Washington Blade, making him the first (and still only) Republican presidential nominee to participate in a Q&A with the LGBT media. In the interview, McCain suggested he could support the Employment NonDiscrimination Act and was open to a review of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Although he reiterated his opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment, McCain suggested that might change if the courts forced states to recognize same-sex marriage. Notably, McCain when asked to identify a gay role model chose 9/11 hero Mark Bingham, who helped lead passengers in diverting United Airlines Flight 93 from the terrorists’ intended target of the U.S. Capitol building. McCain delivered the eulogy at Bingham’s funeral and spoke warmly about him during the Blade Q&A. “I love my country, and I take pride in serving her,” McCain said. “But I cannot say that I love her more or as well as Mark Bingham did, or the other heroes on United Flight 93 who gave their lives to prevent our enemies from inflicting an even greater injury on our country.” McCain was endorsed during his presidential run by Log Cabin Republicans, a distinction Trump failed to achieve eight years later despite having the reputation in 2016 of being the most pro-LGBT Republican nominee in history. Continues at

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