Local Commentary

Editorial: Our July 4 ‘North Star’

Virginia U.S. Senator Tim Kaine practiced his Fourth of July speech a few days early in Richmond last weekend. He delivered brief remarks to the first ever LGBT Democrats’ breakfast the day of the State Democrats’ big Jefferson-Jackson dinner, addressed by Vice President Joe Biden, last Saturday. Kaine said it was an opportunity for him to rehearse his Independence Day message.

The appropriateness of delivering a July 4 speech before that group last Saturday was self-evident to everyone there, especially coming only days after the historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and affirming the legality of gay marriage in California.

“Equality is our political North Star” was the theme of Kaine’s speech. The former governor of Virginia, Kaine won his statewide race for the U.S. Senate last November having embraced full equality for LGBT people, as President Obama had also done.

Nevertheless, it was a bold move for Sen. Kaine to accept the invitation to address the first-ever LGBT Democrats event, and then to plant “equality” as the guiding light, as in the “North Star,” of his party’s political agenda.

It’s been there since the beginning, since the Declaration of Independence, he intoned. It is there in its most hallowed and famous phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Kaine noted it took awhile for the nation to appreciate and act on what that phrase fully meant, gradually augmenting the Constitution by affirming equality in terms of “equal justice under the law,” extending that to race and gender and now, by that same imperative, to persons regardless of sexual orientation.

“So now (with last week’s Supreme Court rulings), when on July 4 my family sits down to take turns reading the Declaration of Independence out loud, it will have a new, enhanced meaning that wasn’t there before,” Kaine said.

This speech signaled “Game on!” in the 2013 statewide elections in Virginia, where the Republican contenders for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general are all passionately opposed to gay equality. GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli has made a national name for himself on this, and crows that the solid majority who voted in 2006 for the infamous anti-gay Marshall-Newman amendment to the state constitution will back him on this in November.

For this reason, some on the Democratic side remain queasy about paying too much attention to the issue. But they need to be reminded of the lightning speed by which attitudes have changed, including in Virginia, just in the last year, much less since 2006. Standing for what is right, for not just their party’s but the nation’s “North Star,” won’t hurt.