Despite large amounts of activity in various states' legislatures and courts surrounding LGBT rights issues, especially marriage and adoption, this year's Presidential election discourse has focused relatively little on these topics. Voters definitely have substantive choices to make between the two major-party candidates where LGBT rights are concerned, but these disparities have narrowed considerably.
No candidate for President or Vice President has endorsed full marriage rights for individuals in same-sex relationships, but Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Joe Biden have consistently demonstrated strong support for civil unions and all associated legal and financial benefits. Obama and Biden have stressed time and again that sexual orientation does not constitute grounds for differential treatment in any aspect of life, and have promised to safeguard the victories made on the equal rights front for LGBT individuals if elected.
Republican Presidential candidate John McCain has also voiced his support for civil unions conducted as private legal arrangements, and has spoken out in the past against efforts to pass a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. His positions on these issues have been less consistent and less vocal than those of the current Democratic candidates, but do constitute an improvement over the platform of previous conservative candidates. McCain's running mate, Sarah Palin, has historically taken a more conservative stance on same-sex relationships--she supported both the idea of a Constitutional ban on gay marriage and the denial of health benefits to same-sex couples.
The three major dividing lines between the Republican and Democratic tickets this election seem to be LGBT adoption rights, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Obama and Biden support the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, and voted in favor of ENDA earlier this year. Both oppose DOMA. Likewise, neither McCain nor Palin supports adoption by same-sex couples, and McCain voted against ENDA. Both support DOMA, though McCain has voiced opposition to an outright Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as stated above. Obama and Biden have also consistently pushed for LGBT individuals' inclusion in federal hate crimes legislation, which McCain has not done. Palin has a much thinner record on these issues due to her relatively nascent political career. Finally, the Democratic ticket opposes Don't Ask, Don't Tell while the Republican ticket endorses it.
Overall, this election represents a step in the right direction for LGBT rights, and will likely not get decided on the issue of marriage equality or related topics. That said, the Democratic and Republican tickets still differ on the extent to which they demand equal treatment for LGBT individuals, and in their enthusiasm for the promotion of equal rights for all Americans. While Senator McCain and Governor Palin have certainly taken some good and courageous steps away from the traditional right-wing attitude toward LGBT Americans, Senator Obama and Senator Biden have made equality for LGBT individuals a high priority. An Obama-Biden administration would thus likely foster more progressive initiatives in the national legislature, and promote the appointment of Supreme Court judges with the best interests of LGBT Americans in mind.
Regardless of your overall opinion of any of the candidates, Laurie and I encourage all of you eligible voters to make your voices heard on Election Day. Remember too that even if you're too young to vote, not registered, or not a US citizen, you can still participate in this election! Consider handing out literature or making phone calls for the candidate you support, attending a rally, or engaging in other activities to help inform your fellow Americans about their choices this year.