Why did twice as many gay Democratic voters prefer Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama on Super-Duper Tuesday? Despite Obama’s soaring rhetoric of inclusion, according to exit polls, Hillary won the gay vote 63 percent to 29 percent in California and 59 percent to 36 percent in New York. In tony coastal Massachusetts, Obama carried Martha’s Vineyard (the Clintons’ on-again, off-again summer home), but Hillary tellingly swept Provincetown. The compromises and betrayals of Bill Clinton’s presidency (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Defense of Marriage Act, and other more minor offenses) seem to be forgotten or at least forgiven. But this could be as much about fear of Obama as it is belief in Clinton.
First, there’s the record: As First Lady, Hillary marched in a gay-pride parade, and she has done so multiple times as a senator. She’s supported AIDS-care funding and an expansion of hate-crimes legislation. And after nearly running his first administration aground by coming out for gays to serve openly in the military, Bill appointed openly gay James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg in 1999 during a congressional recess. The Clintons just seemed comfortable around gay people.
It’s hard for Obama to match that history, even though his LGBT platform is similarly progressive to Hillary’s. (In fact, Obama’s is actually better, since he supports a full repeal of DOMA, and Clinton just wants to remove many of its restrictions.) Obama is handsome and well meaning, but it’s hard for many gay voters to not also see just another straight guy with the messianic ego to think he deserves to lead. And then there’s the hard-to-shake perception that he might be somehow personally uncomfortable around gay people. As part of his building of a coalition of idealistic white liberals and black churchgoers, Obama invited gospel singer Donnie McClurkin, who says his faith cured him of homosexuality, to perform at one of his fund-raisers (though he repudiated McClurkin’s views).
Meanwhile, Hillary has become a gay icon the hard way, or possibly the only way — she’s the awkward idealist who’s suffered and been smeared while working twice as hard to be perfect. She grew up feeling like she had to prove herself doubly to earn the respect of her father and brothers. Neel Lattimore, her press secretary in the White House, once told me that during a gay fund-raiser for her first Senate bid, he and the other attendees laughed it up in true camp fashion as a montage of her bad hairstyles played — and Hillary laughed right along. —Sean Kennedy