Virginia Senator John Edwards addressed a small crowed gathered for Roanoke's Rally For Equality in Elmwood Park on Sunday. The event was held to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. I spoke with Sen. Edwards before his speech and discussed his views on LGBT rights, President Obama's campaign promises to LGBT Americans, same-sex marriage and gays in the military.
Edwards said he believes the president will make good on his promise to end the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) policy but cautioned, "It's a long, involved process." He also said that a moratorium on military discharges under DADT should be implemented until the policy can be ended legislatively, saying, "it's the right thing to do."
The senator added that with major issues like the economy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama "wants to go slow" on LGBT rights, having learned from Bill Clinton's mistakes. It was Clinton's efforts to lift the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the U.S. armed forces early in his first term that resulted in DADT as a compromise.
Edwards worked closely with Virginia's gay rights advocates to defeat the Marshall/Newman marriage initiative in 2006. Despite his efforts, voters passed the measure amending the Virginia constitution to ban same sax marriage. Edwards says the initiative was devised as a wedge issue by the campaign of candidate George Allen in his run for governor. Allen lost that election.
Sen. Edwards said that when the initiative passed, the margin of 57/43 was much lower than expected. With Virginia going blue in the '08 elections, Edwards thinks the political climate in the Old Dominion is changing.
"If the election were held now, you'd be surprised", he said, adding that he believes that Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage will eventually be overturned.
Later, in his speech to the group of about 40, Sen. Edwards talked about cultural diversity and Roanoke's many annual cultural festivals which include Pride in the Park. He said that he always considered Roanoke "a welcoming place."
He compared the Stonewall Riots to John Brown's taking of the armory at Harper's Ferry West Virginia. The senator explained that Brown naively thought he could end slavery with one courageous act. Though his actions were unsuccessful and lead to his death, they were a catalyst for change, which ultimately lead to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
Edwards said that all civil rights battles "have to start with a courageous move."
AARP Pride Information and Resources for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender People, Families and Allies - AARP