Exclusive: Florida Governor Charlie Crist prepared to endorse broad swath of gay rights

By John Byrne
Sunday, September 12, 2010 19:50 EDT
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MIAMI — Charlie Crist, the current governor of Florida and Independent candidate for US Senate, is prepared to issue a ringing endorsement of gay rights in a document slated to be released as early as this week, according to a copy of a position paper provided in advance Sunday to RawStory.com.

Crist, who was elected governor as a Republican, left the GOP after it became clear he could not win his party’s nomination for Senate.

The document provided to RawStory.com includes Crist’s vocal support for gay couples, including hospital visitation, inheritance and adoption rights; opposition to the ban on gays serving in the military; support for anti-discrimination laws and appropriations for HIV and AIDS programs.

“It’s great to hear a sitting governor take such a strong stand on equality issues,” Nadine Smith, Director of Equality Florida, told RawStory.com by telephone Sunday night. “This is the first time in Florida’s history that a sitting governor has taken these public positions on a wide range of LGBT equality issues. It marks a shift in the debate in our state.”

“For us, having the governor of Florida articulate so clearly stands that are in support of equality on a wide range of issues is a new day,” Smith added.

A representative of Crist’s campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.

Crist has faced the wrath of gay rights activists in the past. He’s previously voiced opposition to same sex marriage; the draft doesn’t revise his position. It does, however, include language endorsing civil unions.

The governor’s position paper comes amidst a tense climate on sexuality for Crist. The 2009 documentary “Outrage,” which ran in theaters and on HBO, asserted that Crist was himself gay: in the film, two anonymous subjects claimed to have had sex with the governor, and a former girlfriend was quoted as saying, “Call me in ten years and I’ll tell you a story.”

While major media outlets knocked the accusations as plausibly deniable, or ignored them entirely, “Outrage” drew national attention to Crist’s positions on gay issues and his marital life. He is currently married; his ex-wife of his first marriage now lives with her lesbian partner.

Gay activists will certainly be cheered by Crist’s same-sex rights endorsements.

“I believe that the government should not make it harder for people to take care of their loved ones,” a paper bearing his letterhead reads. “I believe civil unions that provide the full range of legal protections should be available to gay couples. That includes access to a loved one in the hospital, inheritance rights, the fundamental things people need to take care of their families.”

Full disclosure: Crist’s sexuality was a focus of blogger and activist Mike Rogers, now an Associate Publisher of Raw Story.

The Florida governor’s statement offers a ringing endorsement of a number of prominent gay rights issues. Among the most prominent is a statement supporting the repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law, which bans gay servicemembers from serving openly.

“I’m a strong supporter of the men and women of our military,” Crist says, under a section titled “Repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Those willing to risk their lives to defend our country should not be compelled to lie to do so,” he continues. “I support the current efforts by Congress and military leadership to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and hold every member of the military to the same standard of professionalism that has made our military the greatest force for good in the world.”

He also avers his opposition to a recent state court case in which gay couples adopting children have been targets.

“We need to take politics out of adoption decisions,” the governor says in the draft. “That is why I oppose Florida’s current law that requires Family Law judges to ignore what is right for a child in order to adhere to what Florida law blindly demands. There is only one question that matters: What is in the best interest of that child?”

With regard to the proposed federal anti-discrimination law Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which has passed the House but not the Senate, Crist says, “I support strong anti-discrimination laws including ENDA.

“Employment and advancement should be based on skill and merit,” he adds, “not hindered by prejudice of any kind.”

Crist also weighs in on a few other gay-related issues. The governor endorses the following:

Federal Safe Schools Improvement Act

As Commissioner of Education I was the first statewide official to support anti-bullying protections that specifically enumerated the most frequent manifestations of bullying in our schools. Everyone who has children or who has worked with students knows that anti-gay taunts are used relentlessly on our campuses. We need to address the epidemic of bullying and create safe learning environments for every single student.

The Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act

I’ve been a consistent supporter of providing legal protections for gay couples. Like most Americans I believe the government should make it easier, not harder, for people to take care of their loved ones.

Uniting American Families Act

Family reunification has been the foundation of U.S. immigration law but U.S. citizens who are gay cannot sponsor their partners for family-based immigration. As a consequence, many same-sex, bi-national couples are kept apart or torn apart sometimes even separating parents from their children. This bill, which I support, humanely addresses a problem that disproportionately impacts Floridians.

Equal Access to COBRA Act

I strongly support this act which mandates that employees, their partners and dependent children be allowed to continue participation in their employer-sponsored health coverage.

Appropriations for HIV/AIDS Programs

I believe we must make combating HIV/AIDS a priority by harnessing all possible resources to prevent new infections, provide meaningful access to quality care and treatment, boost research to find a cure and address the global crisis.

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