The Running Mate: When Barack Obama Tapped Delaware Senator Joseph Biden to Be His Vice President, He Made a Good Move for Gay Rights

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AS ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED announcements in recent political history dragged into late August, there was no shortage of debate over whom Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama should choose as his running mate. Among the top contenders was Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who's shown a tepid approach to gay rights, and Evan Bayh, an Indiana senator with stronger equality credentials but a reputation for blandness. (New York senator Hillary Clinton was a serious long shot, though a choice that former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani subsequently deemed a "no-brainer.")

When Obama finally did reveal his vice president-via text message at 3 A.M. on August 23--it wasn't hard to see that Delaware senator Joseph Biden Jr. was the better pick in terms of gay rights than either Kaine or Bayh. While he may not be a trailblazer, Biden has a solid record on gay issues, which is augmented by his considerable experience, outspokenness, and reputation.

Since first being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 (at age 29), Biden has demonstrated a consistent commitment to equality in general, which he often expressed through influential positions as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He opposed the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court in 1991, authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, and recently helped broker passage of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which includes a provision to repeal the travel and immigration ban on HIV-positive people.

Gay leaders from his home state hail Biden. "He's extremely well-respected," says Emily Falcon, a Democrat who became the first openly gay delegate from Delaware elected to a national political convention in 2004. "We feel lucky to have such a nationally known figure and a Delaware icon representing our issues so well and so thoughtfully in Washington, D.C."

"I know that Joe is very fair," adds Bob Martz, president of the Delaware Liberty Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee focused on LGBT issues. "I feel comfortable that if he were asked, he would support many of our issues."

And there are statistics to back up the praise, specifically Biden's 84% average on nine congressional scorecards issued by the Human Rights Campaign since 1989. In addition, Biden was cosponsor of the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2007, and he supports transgender inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. In 2006 he opposed the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, calling it nothing more than a political distraction. …