24 November 2014

 In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate, the Arizona senator's campaign had success in portraying the anti-choice social conservative as friendly to the gay community.

Republican Senator John McCain has selected Sarah Palin, Alaska's governor and a little-known conservative with a slim record on gay and AIDS issues, to be his running mate in the 2008 presidential race.

"She's fairly socially conservative, she's fairly anti-choice," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska (ACLU).

Palin became governor in 2006 after serving as a councilwoman and then mayor of a small Alaskan town. She made an unsuccessful run at becoming Alaska's lieutenant governor in 2002. Palin has confronted a single piece of gay rights legislation in that time.

In 2005, Alaska's highest court ruled, in a case brought in 1999 on behalf of nine couples, that the state could not deny benefits to the domestic partners of state government employees. The court ordered the state to implement that ruling in late 2006.

The ruling was seen by right wingers as conflicting with a 1998 amendment to the Alaska Constitution, passed by voters in a ballot referendum, that defined marriage as solely between one man and one woman. The Republican-dominated State Legislature passed a bill that barred the state's administrative agency from implementing the ruling. Palin vetoed it.

"The Department of Law advised me that this bill... is unconstitutional given the recent court order... mandating same-sex benefits," Palin said in a statement. "With that in mind, signing this bill would be in direct violation of my oath of office."

The statement added, "The governor's veto does not signal any change or modification to her disagreement with the action and order by the Alaska Supreme Court. It is the governor's intention to work with the Legislature and to give the people of Alaska an opportunity to express their wishes and intentions whether these benefits should continue."

Eight days before signing the veto, Palin signed another bill that called for a "statewide advisory vote" regarding the ruling from Alaska's high court, saying in a statement, "We may disagree with the rationale behind the ruling, but our responsibility is to proceed forward with the law and follow the Constitution... I disagree with the recent court decision because I feel as though Alaskans spoke on this issue with its overwhelming support for a Constitutional Amendment in 1998 which defined marriage as between a man and woman. But the Supreme Court has spoken and the state will abide."

The ACLU's Mittman framed the way the bill calling for the statewide advisory played out in the ongoing controversy about the high court's order.

"Then what happened was the anti-gay forces came up with what they called an advisory vote," he said. "It was essentially a way for anti-LGBT people to try and rally public opinion to try and move their agenda forward."

In 2007, the state spent an estimated $1 million to hold that vote and Alaskans expressed their opposition to the court ruling by a narrow margin. The vote did not have the effect of making law.

The McCain campaign has very effectively spun the veto to show Palin, 44, as sympathetic toward the gay and lesbian community.

Palin opposes same sex marriage.

A 2006 Anchorage Daily News story, said of Palin: "She's not out to judge anyone and has good friends who are gay, but that she supported the 1998 constitutional amendment."

Some press reports following the McCain campaign announcement have repeated that right-wing rhetorical flourish that has Palin declaring that she has gay friends. That softer image is not what some Alaskans saw.

"That's just completely wrong," said Allison E. Mendel, the attorney who brought the 1999 case. "She spoke on radio programs all throughout the campaign saying, 'I want a constitutional amendment, I think these things are only for a man and a woman.' ... I don't think she's ever said a friendly word about gay people, that they ought to have health benefits like other people do or anything along those lines."

On AIDS issues, Palin simply has no record at all.

"There is not a lot to speak of for AIDS policy because she hasn't done much," said Trevor Storrs, executive director of the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association. "She's never been given the opportunity to address our situation here because it has never been put before her."

With roughly 1,200 AIDS cases, Alaska is a "low incidence state," Storrs said, and most of its HIV funds come from the federal government.

Then Palin's 20 months in the governor's office have been taken up with the state's oil and gas industry. Health issues generally, such as substance abuse or mental health, have not received much attention, Storrs said.

"She has done very little to address the major epidemics," he said.