The Truman Library auditorium is small, and most of the people there that day were members of Kerry's entourage, the media, and big-name Jackson County and Missouri Democrats. After his speech, when Kerry stepped off the stage, one of the first people to greet him was Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon.
In what was otherwise a line for quick handshakes, Kerry stood with Nixon for a long time, listening intently to whatever Nixon was telling him.
For all we know, Nixon was warning Kerry to stick with the original sauce rather than the Rich & Spicy at Arthur Bryant's, where the candidate stopped later for lunch. But for anyone who's following Missouri politics during this presidential election year, it was easy to imagine Nixon saying something else:
We've taken care of the queers for you, Senator.
Just the day before, the Missouri Supreme Court had ruled in Nixon's favor on when Missourians could have the pleasure of amending their state constitution to ban gay marriages. Republicans wanted the election in November, when a big evangelical turnout against gay marriage would lift the end times-baiting George W. Bush. Democrats wanted the election in August, partly because they didn't want the anti-gay-marriage vote to swing the state away from Kerry but also -- though nobody's admitting this out loud -- so they wouldn't have to say anything in support of gay people's civil rights between August 3 and November 2.
We've known all along that Democrats were limp on gay marriage. We expected them to roll over and let Republican legislators put the constitutional amendment on the ballot ("Altar Ego," February 12). Privately, party insiders tell us it's a foregone conclusion that a majority of Missourians will vote to codify discrimination against a targeted group of citizens. Given that reality, no one expects the party's candidates to commit political suicide by, God forbid, sounding even remotely as if they support gay marriage.
But as a rule, Democrats count on the gay vote. They seek out the endorsements of gay Democratic clubs, they ask gay people to host fund-raisers. They give speeches at the city's annual gay-pride festival. They hire gay people to work on their staffs. So it's pathetic to watch the party that claims to be so strong on civil rights -- and gay marriage is solely an issue of civil rights -- abandon one of its core constituencies to the snarling Republican wolves.
In reality, Democrats have less and less to lose by making a stand on this issue. Americans embrace openly gay people on top-rated TV shows. Fortune 500 companies offer domestic-partner benefits to their gay employees. In Kansas City, business and government leaders invite urban guru Richard Florida, an author and hot lecture-circuit professor, to speak at their luncheons -- and foremost in Florida's message is that cities should actively court and nurture a "creative class" of residents, including gay people.
Besides, Jay Nixon is a big, strapping fellow. No one would doubt his masculinity if he'd just tell it like it is:
If the Republicans' stand on the real issues is so morally bankrupt that the only way they can get their candidates elected is by beating up on gay people, then they're pathetic little pussies.