Prizm News / September 1, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
From his votes against AIDS funding in the 1990s to his push to keep discrimination legal today, the Republican candidate for governor of Ohio has a record that speaks for itself.
By Bob Vitale
For a moment, Mike DeWine played the part of politician just as you’d expect from a man who has been running for office since the year ABBA released “Dancing Queen.”
The Republican nominee for governor of Ohio gave me a hearty handshake and a big smile when I introduced myself in an emptying Hilton ballroom in Columbus. I had just been part of a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion, and he had just accepted a local business newspaper’s diversity award for programs in the Ohio attorney general’s office.
“Yeah! I saw you up there!” DeWine gushed. I got to the point.
“Given the theme of the day,” I said, “could I ask you a few questions about LGBTQ issues?”
The smile disappeared from the face of the man who had just been so glad-handingly friendly. We stood silent for a few seconds. “We’re not doing interviews today,” he said finally.
“Well, it’s not an interview, really,” I responded. “Just a couple questions about things like nondiscrimination and…”
“We’re not doing interviews today,” DeWine said again as he walked away.
His press secretary told me by email the next day that the attorney general had been unable to talk because he had to get going to a 2 p.m. press conference. From the looks of a later Facebook post, though, he still had enough time on his way out the door to gather nine employees, make sure one of them was holding that just-won diversity plaque and summon up another smile for a photographer.
Today, I was honored to receive the Outstanding Diverse Organization Award from Columbus Business First. This 2018…
But DeWine’s reaction to my invitation to share his views on LGBTQ issues with LGBTQ Ohioans who vote, pay taxes and cheer for the Buckeyes just like everyone else shouldn’t be surprising. Ever since our issues began taking a more prominent spot on the national agenda during the 1990s, his positions have been closely aligned with some of our community’s most notorious foes.
“Mike DeWine is not a friend of the LGBT community,” says Edward Feighan, who served alongside the Republican in the U.S. House for eight years in the 1980s. Feighan, who represented suburban areas of Cuyahoga County, left Congress in 1993 and came out as gay in 1995.
“He was a pleasant colleague to work with,” Feighan says. “But he is a danger to the LGBT community in Ohio.”
AN UNHEALTHY START
After four terms in the U.S. House and four years as Ohio’s lieutenant governor, DeWine was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1994.
In July 1995, as the Senate took up reauthorization of the Ryan White Act, he supported an amendment offered by the late, legendary homophobe, Jesse Helms, as part of the North Carolina senator’s efforts to slash federal AIDS spending. The disease, Helms contended, didn’t deserve so much attention. It was a result of “deliberate, disgusting, revolting conduct,” he said. It was “transmitted by people deliberately engaging in unnatural acts.”
In subsequent years, DeWine would be lauded—he was congratulated by Bono in 2003—for supporting U.S. efforts to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. But the Helms amendment he voted for would have erased federal funding to gay community health centers around the United States that were providing care to people with AIDS.
DeWine’s vote to defund AIDS treatment for gay men came the same year that AIDS deaths hit their peak in the United States and in Ohio. It was also a year when AIDS was the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.
In 1995, Equitas Health President and CEO Bill Hardy was in his second year as head of what was then the AIDS Foundation Miami Valley in Dayton He remembers well what he and others were up against as they urged lawmakers to help. “It was easier for them to send HIV funding for innocent children than approve domestic funding for gay men who got the disease because of their, quote, ‘immoral lifestyles,’” he says.
“That’s the other part of Mike DeWine’s legacy,” Hardy says. “His record on LGBT equality is dismal. He’s done nothing.”
NO ON NONDISCRIMINATION
For the first time ever, the U.S. Senate scheduled a vote in 1996 on the Employment Non- Discrimination Act, which would have added sexual orientation to the nation’s nondiscrimination laws. (Early versions of the bill did not cover gender identity and expression.)
Feighan, newly out and back in Ohio, called his old colleague from the U.S. House. Advocates knew the Senate vote was going to be close; Vice President Al Gore was on standby in case he needed to break a tie.
Feighan told DeWine why—and for whom—a nondiscrimination law was needed.
“I told him that I was lucky to have a very supportive and loving family,” he recalls. “I told him, ‘This is not going to affect my life, Mike. Nobody is going to fire me. Nobody is going to deny me an apartment.’ But I told him there are a lot of young people in danger because their bosses or landlords suspect—not even know, but suspect—they might be lesbian or gay or bisexual.”
And then Feighan went there. “I said, ‘Mike, you have a lot of children. There could be a statistical chance…’ Before I could finish, Mike DeWine told me he thought the conversation had ended.”
DeWine voted no on the bill. In response to questions early this year from The Columbus Dispatch, he said he opposes adding sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to Ohio’s nondiscrimination laws, too.
MARRIAGE EQUALITY? ‘I DON’T’
As a senator, DeWine voted twice for proposed constitutional amendments that would have imposed a nationwide ban on same-sex couples from getting married. He voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as well, which withheld federal recognition of same-sex marriages in states that had adopted marriage equality.
After he was elected as Ohio attorney general in 2010, though, he argued that the U.S. Supreme Court had no business creating a nationwide definition of marriage. And in the case of Cincinnati widower Jim Obergefell, who wanted a state-issued death certificate to recognize that his late husband had been legally married, DeWine tied himself in a logical knot.
Granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry, he said in 2015, would intrude on the freedom of Ohioans who voted a decade earlier to deny them that freedom.
In both positions, DeWine ended up on the losing side. The proposed constitutional amendments never made it out of the U.S. Senate. The Defense of Marriage Act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. The court sided with Obergefell in its 2015 ruling that resulted in nationwide marriage equality.
“DeWine fought for exclusion. He fought for discrimination,” Obergefell says now. “He fought me all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States in order to deny recognition of our lawful marriage, to ensure that my husband’s last official record as a person would forever be incorrect.”
“As an attorney, DeWine should be well-aware of the fact that a majority of voters passing a law doesn’t make the law right, just or constitutional. Our nation’s history is rife with examples of this happening, examples he obviously ignores.”
On June 26, 2015, when the court issued its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges (the state eventually paid out $1.3 million in attorney fees to the winning side), DeWine seemed to accept defeat: “The court has now made its decision.”
But as a candidate for governor, he’s ready to relitigate. Cincinnati Right to Life, an anti-abortion group that has branched out into anti-LGBTQ causes, asked candidates in March: “Do you support the union of one man and one woman as the only definition of marriage that should be legally recognized at all levels of government?” Both DeWine and running mate Jon Husted answered in capital letters: “YES.”
TRANS RIGHTS? ‘NO’
During the final months of Barack Obama’s presidency in 2016, the U.S. Justice and Education departments told schools around the country that transgender children had the right to use restrooms and other facilities in line with their gender identity.
DeWine denounced the guidance as arrogant, elitist, heavy-handed and an insult to the “basic decency and common sense” of Ohio communities. He added Ohio to a lawsuit filed by nine other states that was dropped when the Trump administration rescinded the letter’s advice.
But his aversion to civil rights for transgender Americans goes back further than that.
In yearly HRC scorecards, DeWine scored some of his only points for adopting an HRC-suggested policy against discrimination in his own office based on people’s sexual orientation. But when the HRC urged lawmakers to add gender identity to their nondiscrimination policies in 2003, DeWine demurred.
THE COMPANY HE KEEPS
HRC congressional tallies show that in 43 votes on issues of interest to LGBTQ Americans during his two terms in U.S. Senate, DeWine was in lock-step 35 times with fellow Republican Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a man whose anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is so harsh that openly gay writer Dan Savage started a campaign to… well… if you don’t know that whole story by now, google it.
“I can count on Mike,” Santorum said during a visit to a hamburger shop in Troy last October, according to the Piqua Daily Call. “He’s got consistent, conservative values and has articulated that when it was popular and when it was not.”
DeWine, according to Santorum, hasn’t reinvented himself. He’s articulating the same values now that he stood for in the U.S. Senate.
They must be the same values DeWine shared on July 17 at a Family Research Council pastors briefing in Columbus, where attendees laid hands on him and prayed.
The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Family Research Council as an extremist group. The subsidiary that hosted DeWine, a pastoral outreach effort called Watchmen on the Wall, is led by Kenyn Cureton, who has said that LGBTQ civil-rights advocates are “organized, mobilized, demonized forces of hell.”
‘NOW…HE’S A TRUMPEE’
Despite a 12-year average of just 24 annual points from the HRC, DeWine is often described as a moderate Republican. In the Senate, he was part of a group that tried to come up with a compromise on immigration reform.
It’s a tag DeWine used to embrace, although he prefers to call himself a “rock-solid conservative” these days. One campaign ad said he’s ‘fighting for President Trump’s travel ban,” even though he expressed concerns about it in 2017.
In 2012, DeWine endorsed Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primaries but switched to Santorum after his former Senate colleague won a string of early primaries and caucuses. He endorsed Gov. John Kasich for president in 2016 but turned enthusiastically to Donald Trump in the general election.
He criticized Trump after an “Access Hollywood” tape showed him making obscene comments about women, but he voted for him anyway.
Feighan says it’s a big reason the 71-year-old has survived for so long in Ohio politics.
“Now in the age of Trump,” he says, “he’s a Trumpee.”
FIND OUT MORE
Ohioans will choose a governor, state officers, General Assembly members, U.S. House members and a U.S. senator in this year’s mid-term elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6.
The deadline to register or to update your voter registration is Tuesday, Oct. 9. Visit myohiovote.com for more information. The website maintained by the Ohio secretary of state also has details about early-voting options, polling locations and other election matters.
Mike DeWine doesn’t talk about LGBTQ issues on his campaign website, either, but you can find where he stands on the opioid crisis, the economy and children’s issues at mikedewine.com.
DeWine is running against Democrat Richard Cordray, whose campaign website is cordrayforohio.com. Read a profile of Cordray from our June issue and get his answers to a Prizm questionnaire about LGBTQ issues.
Constance Gadell-Newton is the Green Party candidate for governor. Her website is constanceforohio.com.
Travis Irvine is the Libertarian Party’s nominee for governor. His website is irvineforohio.com.