Senator Arlen Specter's record on gay
rights is threatening to undermine his re-election bid as Republicans
continue attempts to turn the campaign into a referendum on gay
marriage and the military's ban on open gay service – dicey issues
for the Pennsylvania Republican-turned Democrat.
Specter has disavowed many of his
previous positions on gay rights, prompting accusations from fellow
Democratic rival Pennsylvania Republican Joe Sestak that the
80-year-old senator is not “honest” or “loyal.”
The latest evidence that gay rights are
moving back to the front burner of the contest came Thursday when
Republican opponent Peg Luksik likened gay marriage to incest.
Luksik, who is among the six candidates
hoping to unseat Specter, made her comments during a candidates forum
held at Cheyney University and sponsored by the campus branch of the
NAACP. Both Specter and primary rival Sestak skipped the event. The
men were represented by spokespersons.
When asked about the military policy
that bans gay troops from serving openly – commonly known as “Don't
Ask, Don't Tell” – Luksik, a Johnstown Republican, likened gay
marriage to incest.
“If a marriage license is a
fundamental human right then anybody should be allowed to have a
marriage license with anybody,” the Daily Times quoted her
“So I can have one with my sister, my
brother, you can have one with your parent, because if it's a
fundamental right for anybody to marry anybody, then it's a
fundamental right for anybody to marry anybody,” she added.
Luksik's remarks might be bait to
Specter on issues that have already proved thorny for the senator.
In a blog post published last year in the Huffington
Post, Specter said it was time to repeal the Defense of
Marriage Act (DOMA), the law that defines marriage as a heterosexual
union for federal agencies, and “Don't Ask, Don't Tell,”
reversing his long-held views on the issues.
Specter's rival for the Democratic
nomination, Representative Joe Sestak, was more than happy to remind
voters of Specter's record.
“As the longtime Republican senator
carries on his attempt to run away from his 30-year Republican
record, this time on his vote to support the Defense of Marriage Act,
he should be honest about his votes to oppose equal rights for LGBT
Americans. He actually voted with Republican Senator Rick Santorum
to deny equal benefits to legally married LGBT Americans in the first
place,” Sestak said. “Senator Specter's willingness to
reposition himself just to help himself politically should give pause
to Pennsylvanians who are looking for a loyal senator who will put
principle over politics for the next generation.”
Complicating matters is a nearly evenly
divided electorate on gay rights. For example, Pennsylvanian
lawmakers appear to have reached a stalemate on gay unions. Neither
a gay marriage bill nor one that seeks to ban gay marriage have
gained much traction at the Statehouse. One lawmaker, Representative
Mark Cohen, says civil unions are the best compromise. The
Democrat introduced a bill that recognizes gay couples with civil
unions last month.
Whether Republicans are ratcheting up
their rhetoric on gay rights in an effort to rattle Specter remains
to be seen, but Luksik, who will face her primary opponents on May
18, appears certain to continue to press her opposition to gay
rights: “I support the traditional definition of marriage as the
union between one man and one woman,” she says on her campaign