Kirk Runs Away From Palin on Gay Rights

Mark Kirk flew all the way to Washington Wednesday to escape from the America-lovin’, huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ road show that Sarah Palin brought to a $500-a-plate Republican Party fundraiser.

Kirk is afraid that any association with the Annie Oakley of American politics will taint him as a right-wing tea drinker.

Well, if Kirk is trying to prove he’s less conservative than Palin, he should fly even further east -- to Malawi. Kirk recently introduced a resolution in Congress asking the Malawian government to release two gay men imprisoned for “committing acts of gross indecency with another male person.” His co-sponsor was Rep. Tammy Baldwin, (D-Wisc.), the house’s only openly lesbian member.

The resolution calls the men “prisoners of conscience” and goes on to urge the African nation “to urgently address the pervasive violation of human rights in Malawi and the criminalization of conduct by consenting adults.”

Africa is a major battleground in the worldwide gay rights movement. Most sub-Saharan countries subscribe to traditional, tribal teachings that consider same-sex relationships an abomination, and consider homosexuality a creation of the decadent white nations that enslaved and colonized Africans. As a result, they’ve been proselytized by American evangelicals who’ve been losing the battle against gay rights here at home. After one such crusade, Uganda considered a law to hang homosexuals.

Kirk also has a strong record on gay rights here in the United States: he voted to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and against a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between “one man and one woman.” He also co-sponsored a hate crimes bill partially inspired by the murder of Matthew Shepard, a Wyoming college student. Kirk consistently receives high ratings from the Human Rights Campaign, a pro-gay lobbying organization. Kirk and fellow Illinoisan Judy Biggert were two of the four Republican congressmen the HRC endorsed in 2008.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, supported the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, doesn’t see the need to expand hate crimes to gays, and even opposes benefits for domestic partners, saying: “I believe spousal benefits are reserved for married citizens as defined in our constitution.”

Kirk has long represented a fiscally conservative, socially liberal district in Congress. In his run for the Senate, he’s trying to walk that fine line between traditional conservatism and the right wing. Illinois Republicans have done well among gays in the past. In 1998, George Ryan swept Chicago’s gay community in his campaign for governor. If Kirk is trying to separate himself from Palin -- and win over a non-traditional constituency for his party -- gay rights are a good place to start.

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