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January 18, 2008

Alabama's Liberal Congressman Punts to the Preachers on Same Sex Insurance

By Cody Lyon

In truth, Alabama Obama Campaign Chairman and Liberal Congressman Artur Davis' statements exposed what might be seen as a disillusioning and ugly reality of American political life and the perhaps misguided faith in a system that continues to let many of us down.


A January 15, gathering of “like minded” forum of suburban democrats in Birmingham Alabama on healthcare reform unintentionally became a point of contention for some local LGBT members that point to potential veins of hypocrisy deep inside the regional reality of politics, signs of conflicts within much of the fundament of proclaimed liberal idealistic thinking.

In truth, one Congressman’s statements exposed what might be seen as a disillusioning and ugly reality of American political life and perhaps the misguided faith in a system that continues to let many of us down.

Among those on a panel of speakers at the meeting of Birmingham’s “Over the Mountain” were Dr. Wally Retan, Dr. Max Michael, Terry Kellog, a VP at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama and the liberal, African American Congressman, Artur Davis (D-7th District)

In Birmingham, "over the mountain" is synonymous with suburban, wealthier and whiter than the Mother Ship city in the valley to the north.

According to a number of participants, after a number of questions, discussions and sated commitment to the compassionate ideal of Universal health care for all Americans, a question was posed to Terry Kellog, a VP at Blue Cross Blue Shield or BCBS.

Kellog was asked why BCBS still refuses to offer a product to any of its clients that extends health insurance benefits to the partners or children of the unmarried, primarily same sex couples.

With 3.6 million Alabama customers and 4000 employees, the company is the state’s largest insurer. .

Reportedly, Kellog offered a widely expected litany of economic and business related excuses, noting that Blue Cross in Alabama does not offer benefits to domestic partners, either heterosexual or homosexual, arguing that ultimately, BCBS of Alabama’s customers don’t want to pay the alleged costs for additional coverage.

Despite signs from a number of major insurers that this arguably discriminatory policy is changing, the fact is, that Alabama’s Blue Cross Blue Shield is not alone since a number of large insurers throughout the nation still offer no such extension to domestic partners.

But, as Danny Upton, Executive Director of Equality Alabama, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization later said, the excuse by Blue Cross Blue Shield is unacceptable, considering the fact that 78 percent of the Fortune 100 largest corporations and 49 percent of the Fortune 500 offered health benefits to employee’s domestic partners. Upton says Alabama’s Blue Cross Blue Shield has simply not kept pace with social and corporate trends and as a result, is losing its reputation as a leader, innovator and competitor in the changing Alabama health market.

But then, Alabama’s “liberal” Congressman, Artur Davis concurred with Kellog. adding, much to some of the crowd’s surprise, that the LGBT community should not look to Washington or Montgomery, the state’s capital, for any sort of pro-activity that might affect change at Alabama’s largest insurer.

He also said that discussion of this issue would be driven by the clergy, and in Alabama, that more than likely would mean, outspoken Preachers who do no approve of gay lifestyles.

The day after the “Over the Mountain” Democrat organization meeting, Birmingham blogs were abuzz with reaction. Those sympathetic to local LGBT causes saw the Congressman’s comments as further evidence that leadership is lacking where it pertains to the millions of LGBT Americans. Local activists saw Davis’ apparent acceptance of this apparent Alabama reality as proof that LGBT citizens are still considered second class citizens when it comes to some of the most basic elements of American life.

Davis’ advice to the Alabama LGBT community seemed to say that Washington did not have a say, that in the heart of Dixie, that Preachers had the pull with the congregation, and among this congregations members, were the insurance company decision makers, and that they would in fact, be the sole decision makers on whether or not, gay couples would ever see this sort of benefit offered as a product.

Further, the fact that there is a link between Alabama’s Congressman Davis, and the Democratic Presidential Candidate who has been most enthusiastically touted as an agent of change in Washington.

Congressman Artur Davis is the Alabama state chairman of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign for President. To some, Davis’ role as head of Obama’s campaign, begged the question as to whether or not Senator Obama might speak out against, or express disagreement with Davis’ assessment regarding exactly who has more influence over this exclusionary policy, which to some LGBT Alabamians appeared to be a punt by Washington to the preachers.

That fired up a few participants at the Birmingham meeting.

“It’s ridiculous that our alleged secular leaders would punt to un-elected religious clergy when it comes to an issue involving healthcare for all Americans” said Danny Upton, Executive Director at Equality Alabama, the state’s largest LGBT civil rights organization.

Still, in a phone conversation this past Tuesday evening, Artur Davis press spokesperson Corey Ealons affirmed the Congressman’s statements saying that the extension of domestic partner benefits by an insurance company is a community issue.

“The individuals who will more than likely drive the discussion on domestic partner insurance benefits will be the clergy” said Ealons.

Equality Alabama’s Upton, who participated in the Democratic meeting said that after Kellog had offered his company’s excuse and Davis, and Davis had said the Preachers would be the folks who decided if and when the gays would get domestic partner benefits, he just got up and left.

Upton says he felt let down and betrayed by the Congressman’s statement, that the very idea of asking preachers, the people who have told you all your life, that your very essence is immoral and wrong, to advocate for domestic partner benefits for same sex partners, was absurd.

And with this, a greater question arises, who does, or more importantly, who will advocate for LGBT Americans when it comes to the real nuts and bolts issues that impact folks outside of the liberal more officially gay friendly bastions like New York or California .

It has became more obvious that LGBT activists have been wasting valuable time hammering Presidential candidates during glossy television debates over the broad definition of the claimed heterosexual treasure called marriage. Thats not to say that a number of nuts and bolts issues on the ground have seen some slow but real progress, even in this era of Bush, tangible acceptance of LGBT people where real benefits have trickled down to gay people and fought for even in more “conservative” places like Alabama.

But, the unfortunate reality seems to be, with each state that passes a gay marriage ban amendment, now at twenty, same sex marriage looks increasingly like a reality for another gay generation.

But there is still the chance for true and effective change.

With outspoken leadership from up above, in Washington, leadership that advocates and lobbies purse strings, social and religous groups and business leaders, not only for domestic partner benefits, but also foreign citizen partner sponsorship, adoption rights, gay youth homeless, job discrimination, tax relief for same sex couples and a number of other real and tangible protections that provide gay people and their relationships with a much needed sense of legitimacy beyond what they watch on network television shows or read about in other countries.

The hope is that Alabama Obama campaign chairman Davis’ shirking of leadership is not representative of the candidate for President. But the greater hope is that whomever wins among the Democratic Presidential Candidates, all who have all been marketing themselves as agents of change and progress, will take on the nuts and bolts realities of change, and once elected, take a stand, and not make the mistake that Congressman Davis made when he punted his position as a leader to the Preachers of Alabama and elsewhere.


Authors Website:

Authors Bio:
Cody Lyon is an Alabama native who is a freelance writer in New York City.