He didn’t represent Illinoisans’ views on gay rights. In poll after poll, we have overwhelmingly supported the right of gays to serve openly in the military. And just last week, our state legislature approved civil unions -- a bill supported by 57 percent of Illinoisans.
But more importantly, Kirk’s vote didn’t represent Illinois’s tradition of tolerance and extending rights to groups discriminated against in less enlightened corners of the country.
It’s a tradition that goes all the way back to Abraham Lincoln. No state did more to end slavery than Illinois. And no state did more to bring former slaves into the political process: blacks got the vote here in 1870. Nearly a century later, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extended the franchise nationwide, it was an Illinois Republican, Sen. Everett Dirksen, who broke the filibuster by Southern senators.
Thursday’s filibuster against gays in the military was the most shameful use of that parliamentary tactic since 1964, when Sen. Richard Russell of Georgia made a Rebel Yell speech against “any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races.” Like that filibuster, the defeat of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was led by a small group of old men making one last stand to preserve a prejudice they’ve exploited for political gain in the past, but which has been abandoned by the rest of America.
Kirk can’t even claim his vote was a matter of principle, since he built his reputation as a moderate, independent politician by supporting gay rights.
The senator may have thought he could vote against repealing DADT and suffer no political consequences. He voted against it in June, as a congressman, and then went on to defeat Alexi Giannoulias. But that might not fly down the road.
Prediction: the Democrats aren’t going to nominate another 34-year-old whose family bank loaned money to mobsters. Kirk will have a tougher opponent next time. Of course, by then, DADT will be history, invalidated by executive order or the courts, if not by Congress. Kirk should hope gay rights are not still an issue in 2016, and he should hope Illinois forgets his attempts to prevent gays from becoming equal members of American society.
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