November 20, 1942– Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. became the fifth-youngest Senator in USA history, plus he was Delaware’s longest-serving senator. He is also just about the best friend Gay People have ever had who has held a major Executive Branch office. His Presidential campaign in 2008 never quite gained the needed traction, but upstart Democratic nominee Barack Obama selected him as his running mate.
Just as Biden’s political career was really beginning, he was dealt a devastating tragedy. A week before Christmas in 1972, Biden’s wife & 3 children were involved in a dreadful automobile accident while shopping for a Christmas tree. It took the life of his young wife & daughter, and severely injured both of his sons, Beau & Hunter. Biden was inconsolable, even suicidal. Biden:
“I began to understand how despair led people to just cash in; how suicide wasn’t just an option but a rational option. I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, & I was angry.”
With encouragement & support of his family, Biden decided to honor his commitment to the people of Delaware as their representative in the US Senate. He skipped his swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol & took the oath of office from his sons’ hospital room. He wanted to spend time with his sons, so Biden continued to live in Wilmington, commuting to & from DC each day by Amtrak train, something he did all the time he served in the Senate.
Biden married a second time in 1977, to Jill Jacobs, an educator. The couple had daughter, Ashley, born in 1981.
This spring, Biden suffered another devastating loss when his handsome son Beau, Attorney General of Delaware & Major in the Delaware Army National Guard, was taken by brain cancer. He was just 46 years old & I think, a rather probable future President. Biden:
“Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”
I had only recently been declared in remission after my own cancer battle & I cried a bucket full of tears with the news of Beau Biden’s passing. Following this tragedy, I had still hoped Biden might make another try at running for the Presidency. But, I was mostly relieved that he put an end to the speculation a few weeks ago. In the White House Rose Garden with his wife & President Obama by his side, Biden made his announcement:
“As my family & I have worked through the grieving process, I’ve said all along what I’ve said time & again to others, that it may very well be that the process by the time we get through it closes the window. I’ve concluded it has closed. While I will not be a candidate, I will not be silent. I intend to speak out clearly & forcefully, to influence as much as I can where we stand as a party & where we need to go as a nation.”
Beau Biden had asked him to consider a third try for the White House, but Biden refused to promise his son, but he promised to ask his aides to explore the possibility. He lived up to that promise.
At a Human Rights Campaign dinner in early October, Biden was joined by former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete to play in the NBA, plus Blossom Brown, a transgender woman from Mississippi all spoke out in favor of equal rights for everyone in our country.
Speaking at a celebration for the Supreme Court’s ruling on Marriage Equality, Biden spoke movingly of gay-rights activists struggle, promising to fight for equal-protection laws for Gay Americans, & not-so-subtly tooted his own horn in helping marriage become legal for everyone.
“You left the Supreme Court absolutely no choice, no choice whatsoever, & I mean that. The very fact that we finally recognize that love is not a political matter, it’s a basic human right, the fact that we recognize that is because of you. You’ve changed the world in which my grandchildren will grow up.”
Biden always had a strong record in support of Gay Rights reaching back to his own teenage years. Recently, he was instrumental in helping appoint Justice Anthony Kennedy who cast that deciding vote in the landmark Marriage Equality ruling. Biden:
“This has been a heroic battle. But it’s been based on this very simple proposition best expressed to me by my dad as a 17 year-old kid. I recall a time when my father & I witnessed 2 men kissing. I turned & looked at my dad, & I’ll never forget what he said: ‘Joey, they love each other. It’s simple’.”
There was also that famous moment on NBC’s Meet The Press in 2012, when Biden endorsed Same-Sex Marriage, reportedly frustrating Obama’s team who had also planned on announcing the President’s own support for Marriage Equality.
Biden’s own work has focused heavily on the fight to grant equal protection to individuals in the workplace & housing. He has pushed the Obama Administration to expand equal-protection laws for gay Americans in those states that do not explicitly bar discrimination based on sexuality. Biden:
“There are still 32 states where marriage can be recognized in the morning, & you can still be fired in the afternoon. I want you to know that this next door will be a hell of a lot easier to open.”
In typical Biden “speak”, he has noted that the vocal LGBTQ community has helped many straight people feel more comfortable about supporting gay rights.
“Homophobia also intimidated millions of straight people who didn’t have a homophobic bone in their body. They are now free as well.”
“You don’t owe me or the President any thanks. We owe you. It’s hard for me to imagine the sense of accomplishment Gay Americans must feel.”
The Vice President continues to urge gay people to keep working for full equality. He has stated that he now believes that most Americans already support proposed protections against housing, employment & services contained in much disputed Equality Act. But, he also believes that LGBT Americans still face discrimination, & the proposal might go a long way to remedy that.
“The American people are already with you. Look at the numbers. Oh, there are homophobes still left. Most of them are running for President, I think.”
As he winds down to his last 12 months in office & especially today on his 73rd birthday, we should thank Biden for being the Obama Administration’s conscience on LGBTQ rights. I think he deserves it.