Joe Biden on Civil Rights

Former Vice President; previously Democratic Senator (DE)


1970s: Desegregating society ok, but not via school busing

Biden's statements [opposing school desegregation] 44 years ago represent one of the earliest chapters in his well-documented record on racial issues, during which he generally has worked alongside African American leaders and been embraced by them.

Biden's spokesman said the former V.P. still believes he was right to oppose busing, noting, "He never thought busing was the best way to integrate schools in Delaware--a position which most people now agree with. As he said during those many years of debate, busing would not achieve equal opportunity. And it didn't."

The spokesman said Biden has a distinguished history of working for civil rights and against segregation. As a young man, Biden fought to desegregate a movie theater in Delaware, and worked as the only white employee at a largely black swimming pool. "Joe Biden is today--and has been for more than 40 years in public life--one of the strongest and most powerful voices for civil rights in America," the spokesman concluded.

Source: Washington Post, "Desegregation," on 2020 Democratic primary , Mar 7, 2019

Endorsed diverse slate of candidates for Congress

From American Possibilities, Biden's PAC: "Together, in 2018, we endorsed a slate of 133 candidates. More than half of those endorsements were women. A quarter were people of color. Almost half of those candidates were under 50 years of age.

I traveled to 24 states in support of 65 of our candidates. And thanks to supporters everywhere, we contributed more than $600,000 to candidates this cycle.

All that effort paid off-and helped some exceptional leaders win tough races."

Source: 2018 Congressional endorsements by AmericanPossibilities.org , Feb 25, 2019

1962: only white lifeguard at pool of African-American kids

Ever since his first election, Biden has been a vocal champion of civil rights. His inspiration? The swimming pools.

In 1962, while still at college, Joe made some extra cash as a lifeguard. A dozen lifeguards worked at the Prices Run swimming pool, but he was the only white guy. He was one of the only white people in the entire pool, which was filled with hundreds of African American swimmers.

Biden played hoops with the other lifeguards. Made friends. And perhaps for the first time, he began to see the world through a different, less privileged set of eyes. He heard stories of segregation at movie theatres, of naked racism, of how black people endured "a dozen small cuts a day."

He got along well with the community. Fifty years later, Joe returned to that swimming pool. Wearing a navy suit instead of swim trunks, he sat in the lifeguard chair. "I owe this neighborhood," he told the crowd. " I learned so, so much." By then the pool had a new name: The Joseph R. Biden Jr. Aquatic Center.

Source: The Book of Joe, by Jeff Wilser, p. 38-9 , Oct 24, 2017

Delivered eulogy for segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond

Biden would soon meet a man who seemed to embody everything that he had opposed: Senator Strom Thurmond, the segregationist, [who said] "Segregation in the South is honest, open, and aboveboard".

Despite those repugnant positions, Biden did his best not to vilify the man, and he watched as Thurmond's positions on race gradually evolved.

Biden believes in our ability to change so much, in fact, that he unwittingly used the word five times in one paragraph. "Strom knew America was changing, and that there was a lot he didn't understand about that change. Much of the change challenged many of his long-held views. But he also saw his beloved South Carolina and the people of South Carolina changing as well, and he knew the time had come to change himself."

Before Strom Thurmond died, he made sure to include one last detail in his will: The eulogy would need to be delivered by Joe Biden.

Source: The Book of Joe, by Jeff Wilser, p. 60-1 , Oct 24, 2017

Marriage is all about "who do you love", of whatever gender

On May 6, 2012, the Meet the Press interviewer asked Biden if his views on gay marriage had evolved. Biden spoke slowly, quietly, earnestly. "This is about... a simple proposition," he said, hands clasped. "Who do you love? And will you be loyal to the person you love? And that's what people are finding out is what marriages at their root are about. Whether they are marriages of lesbians or gay men or heterosexuals."

The interviewer wanted to clarify. "And you're comfortable with same-sex marriage now?"

"I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying one another, are entitled to the same exact rights," Biden said. "All the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don't see much of a distinction beyond that."

Whether he had intended to or not, Joe Biden had just made history, and we all know what happened next.

Source: The Book of Joe, by Jeff Wilser, p.147 , Oct 24, 2017

Obama disbelieved 2012 gay-marriage support was "accidental"

Biden infuriated Obama by publicly declaring his off-message support for gay marriage, just as the 2012 campaign was entering the homestretch. Obama's team didn't buy Biden's explanation that the gay-marriage endorsement was accidental--and, until recently, Obama's team blocked Biden from doing much national media [after that event]. The freeze-out was not subtle: The V.P. was personally excluded from planning meetings he had been invited to attend 4 years earlier, and his people were treated with open contempt in the weeks following the gay marriage controversy.

Biden had no idea at the time that Obama's polling operation had begun inserting questions into focus groups about Clinton's viability as a vice presidential replacement, a revelation that surfaced only late last year in "Double Down." [An Obama aide] told me the dump-Joe polling never even led to a discussion among Obama's senior advisers (in part because Clinton seemed to offer no significant re-election benefit).

Source: Politico Mag profile, "Joe Biden in Winter" , Mar 1, 2014

I supported gay marriage and got criticized for saying so

Q: Your views on the gay marriage debate?

A: Remember, I got criticized for saying I support gay marriage. I just decided I couldn't be quiet about it anymore, and everybody was stunned that that's where the public is. And I'm not stunned; it's where the public's been for a while. Talk to any of your kids, for God's sake.

Q: Did you get blowback from the president or people in general?

A: I got blowback from everybody but the president. I walked in that Monday, he had a big grin on his face, he put his arms around me and said, "Well, Joe, God love you, you say what you think." I knew he agreed with me. It wasn't like he was in a different place.

Source: Douglas Brinkley in Rolling Stone Magazine , May 9, 2013

I'm "absolutely comfortable" with same-sex marriage

Joe Biden became the highest-ranking government official to back same-sex marriage on Sunday, telling Meet the Press he was "absolutely comfortable" with the issue. Obama has appeared reluctant to take up the issue in an election year but has said his views are "evolving" on the subject.

The comments by Biden, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's support of same-sex marriage, opened up speculation that the White House is moving towards a new position of support for gay marriage, beyond its already stated backing for civil unions. But Obama's main political strategist played down the prospect of an imminent shift. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, he insisted that Biden's comments are "entirely consistent with the president's position, which is that couples who are married, whether they are gay or heterosexual couples are entitled to the very same liberties. When people are married, we ought to recognize those marriages and afford them the rights to which they are entitled."

Source: Adam Gabbatt & Ewen MacAskill in The Guardian (UK) , May 7, 2012

1976: Opposed school busing to combat segregation

[In 1968, Biden] flatly opposed school busing to combat segregation, calling it "a phony issue which allows the white liberals to sit in suburbia, confident that they are not going to have to live next to blacks."

While Biden agreed that busing was warranted to combat segregation by law as imposed in the Deep South, he was against busing to deal with de facto segregation based on residential patterns, as was the case in Delaware.

In 1975 he introduced and won Senate approval of two anti-busing amendments. Busing, he wrote, "was a liberal train wreck, and it was tearing people apart." Biden was categorical: "I oppose busing. It's an asinine concept, the utility of which has never been proven to me." He made the distinction between de jure integration, required by a court order to end segregation, to which he acquiesced, and de facto integration, motivated by a desire to alter the racial composition of a school absent a court order, which HEW espoused and Biden strenuously opposed.

Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by J. Witcover, p. 75&81&134-5 , Oct 5, 2010

Inalienable rights cannot be denied by any majority

[At the Supreme Court hearings in 1987, Biden challenged Bork's basic argument tof enumerated rights in the Constitution, saying, "I believe all Americans are born with certain inalienable rights. As a child of God, I believe my rights are not derived from the Constitution. My rights are not denied by any majority. My rights are because I exist. They were given to me and each of my fellow citizens by our creator, and they represent the essence of human dignity."

His concerns [about Bork] touched on "the relationship of people of different races in our land; whether it was wrong for state courts to enforce covenants that prohibited black couples from buying homes in white neighborhoods; whether the court was wrong in allowing literacy tests in voting; and whether in the future the Court will intervene to protect the rights of the races.." Biden listed other privacy rights: in marriage, in child-raising, in having private schools; above all in freedom of expression in politics and the arts.

Source: A Life of Trial & Redemption, by Jules Witcover, p.199-200 , Oct 5, 2010

1987 Biden Report: Reject Bork; he'd roll back civil rights

A brief [on Bork's Supreme Court nomination] was prepared for Joe Biden, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the Biden Report. Bork later said in his best-selling book The Tempting of America that the report "so thoroughly misrepresented a plain record that it easily qualifies as world class in the category of scurrility."

A hotly contested United States Senate debate over Bork's nomination ensued, partly fueled by strong opposition by civil and women's rights groups concerned with what they claimed was Bork's desire to roll back civil rights decisions of the Warren and Burger courts. Bork is one of only three Supreme Court nominees to ever be opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with William Rehnquist and Samuel Alito. Bork was also criticized for being an "advocate of disproportionate powers for the executive branch of Government, almost executive supremacy," as allegedly demonstrated by his role in the Saturday Night Massacre.

Source: Wikipedia.org, "Robert Bork", re: Slouching Towards Gomorrah , Nov 17, 2009

No on gay marriage; yes on equal treatment

Q: Do you support, as they do in Alaska, granting same-sex benefits to couples?

BIDEN: Absolutely positively. Absolutely no distinction from a legal standpoint between a same-sex and a heterosexual couple. Same-sex couples should be able to have visitation rights in the hospitals, joint ownership of property, life insurance policies, etc. That’s only fair.

Q: Governor, would you support expanding that beyond Alaska to the rest of the nation?

PALIN: Well, not if it goes closer and closer towards redefining the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman.

Q: Let’s try to avoid nuance. Do you support gay marriage?

BIDEN: No. Barack Obama nor I support redefining from a civil side what constitutes marriage. We do not support that. That is basically the decision to be left to faiths and people who practice their faiths the determination what you call it.

PALIN: My answer is the same as his and it is that I do not.

Source: 2008 Vice Presidential debate against Gov. Sarah Palin , Oct 2, 2008

1968: Wilmington riots failed at conversation between races

Wilmington was a strange place at the end of 1968. The city had been under martial law for nearly six months. The Democratic governor, Charles Terry, had called out the National Guard when rock and bottle throwing escalated to sniping, looting, & arson i the days following Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Seven months after the rioting, Gov. Terry refused to call off the Guard. News cameras would show up to do stories about the only city where the Guard was still patrolling black neighborhoods. The white citizens were almost all happy to have the Guard there. They were afraid riots might ignite in the ghetto and spread. They were afraid Wilmington’s police force wasn’t big enough to keep it contained.

In the black neighborhoods of East Wilmington residents were afraid. Guardsmen were prowling the streets with loaded weapons. Curfews were in effect. The news had a way of making these stories seem like a conversation between the races, but I knew blacks & whites weren’t talking to each other.

Source: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden, p. 42-43 , Jul 31, 2007

Nobody asks if you’re gay in a foxhole

I’ve been to Afghanistan, I’ve been to Iraq seven times, I’ve been in the Balkans, I’ve been in these foxholes with these kids, literally in bunkers with them. Let me tell you something, nobody asked anybody else whether they’re gay in those foxholes. Our allies -- the British, the French, all our major allies -- gays openly serve. I don’t know the last time an American soldier said to a backup from a Brit, “Hey, by the way, let me check. Are you gay? Are you straight?” This is ridiculous.
Source: 2007 Dem. debate at Saint Anselm College , Jun 3, 2007

Civil unions ok; gay marriage is probably inevitable

Q: In November 2003, you were asked, “Do you believe gay marriage is inevitable?” And you responded, “I’m not sure. I think probably it is.”

A: Well, I think it probably is because social mores change. But I don’t think the government can dictate the definition of marriage to religious institutions. But government does have an obligation to guarantee that every individual is free of discrimination. And there’s a distinction. I think government should not be able to dictate to religions the definition of marriage, but on a civil side, government has the obligation to strip away every vestige of discrimination as to what individuals are able to do in terms of their personal conduct.

So New Hampshire coming out in favor of civil unions is OK by you?

A: Yes. Yes, it is.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series , Apr 29, 2007

Opposed to quota-systems; they insure mediocrity

We've lost our bearings since the 1954 "Brown vs. School Board" desegregation case. To "desegregate" is different than to "integrate." I got into trouble with Democratic liberals in 1972 when I refused to support a quota-system for the Democratic National Convention. I am philosophically opposed to quota-systems; they insure mediocrity. The new [school busing] integration plans being offered are really just quota-systems to assure a certain number of blacks, Chicanos, or whatever in each school. That, to me, is the most racist concept you can come up with; what it says is, "in order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes, and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son." That's racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child? The point is, almost all the new liberal leaders and civil rights leaders oppose busing.
Source: People Paper (Newark DE) interview in Congressional Record , Oct 2, 1975

Joe Biden on Voting Record

1978: opposed busing except for gov’t-intended segregation

I’ll never forget going to an event in the school gymnasium in a working-class town near Wilmington. Everybody in the room wanted to know where I really stood on busing. I tried to explain what I’d been doing in the Senate and the difference between de facto (or unintentional) segregation and de jure (or government-intended) segregation. But the audience wanted a full-out mea culpa and a hard statement that I despised busing. And I got hot. I wanted them to be clear where I stood. Look, I told them, I was against busing to remedy de facto segregation owing to housing patterns & community comfort, but if it was intentional segregation, I’d personally pay for helicopters to move the children. There were howls in the crowd.

I stand by this statement, but it was probably the single stupidest moment I could have chosen to make it. I actually felt physically threatened.

Busing took effect just a few weeks before the 1978 Election Day.

Source: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden, p.127-128 , Jul 31, 2007

Voted NO on recommending Constitutional ban on flag desecration.

The Senate voted on a resolution which would recommend a Constitutional Amendment banning flag desecration (not a vote on the Amendment itself). The resolution states:
  1. the flag of the US is a unique symbol of national unity...
  2. the Bill of Rights should not be amended in a manner that could be interpreted to restrict freedom...
  3. abuse of the flag causes more than pain and distress... and may amount to fighting words...
  4. destruction of the flag of the US can be intended to incite a violent response rather than make a political statement and such conduct is outside the protections afforded by the first amendment to the Constitution.
Reference: Flag Desecration Amendment; Bill S.J.Res.12 ; vote number 2006-189 on Jun 27, 2006

Voted NO on constitutional ban of same-sex marriage.

Voting YES implies support for amending the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. This cloture motion to end debate requires a 3/5th majority. A constitutional amendment requires a 2/3rd majority. The proposed amendment is:
Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution, nor the constitution of any State, shall be construed to require that marriage or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman.
Reference: Marriage Protection Amendment; Bill S. J. Res. 1 ; vote number 2006-163 on Jun 7, 2006

Voted YES on adding sexual orientation to definition of hate crimes.

Motion to Invoke Cloture on S. 625; Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act of 2001. The bill would expand the definition of hate crimes to incorporate acts committed because of a victim's sex, sexual orientation or disability and permit the federal government to help states prosecute hate crimes even if no federally protected action was implicated. If the cloture motion is agreed to, debate will be limited and a vote will occur. If the cloture motion is rejected debate could continue indefinitely and instead the bill is usually set aside. Hence a Yes vote supports the expansion of the definition of hate crimes, and a No vote keeps the existing definition. Three-fifths of the Senate, or 60 members, is required to invoke cloture.
Reference: Bill S.625 ; vote number 2002-147 on Jun 11, 2002

Voted YES on loosening restrictions on cell phone wiretapping.

Motion to table (kill) the amendment that would provide that in order to conduct roving surveillance, the person implementing the order must ascertain that the target of the surveillance is present in the house or is using the phone that has been tapped.
Reference: Bill S1510 ; vote number 2001-300 on Oct 11, 2001

Voted YES on expanding hate crimes to include sexual orientation.

Vote on an amendment that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include gender, sexual orientation and disability. The previous definition included only racial, religious or ethnic bias.
Reference: Bill S.2549 ; vote number 2000-136 on Jun 20, 2000

Voted YES on setting aside 10% of highway funds for minorities & women.

Vote to table, or kill, an amendment to repeal the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise [DBE] Program, which requires no less than 10% of highway construction projects funded by the federal government to be contracted to 'disadvantaged business enterprises'
Reference: Bill S.1173 ; vote number 1998-23 on Mar 6, 1998

Voted NO on ending special funding for minority & women-owned business.

This legislation would have abolished a program that helps businesses owned by women or minorities compete for federally funded transportation.
Status: Cloture Motion Rejected Y)48; N)52
Reference: Motion to invoke cloture; Bill S.1173 ; vote number 1997-275 on Oct 23, 1997

Voted YES on prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): Vote to prohibit marriage between members of the same sex in federal law, and provide that no state is required to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Define 'marriage' as 'between one man and one woman.'
Reference: Bill HR 3396 ; vote number 1996-280 on Sep 10, 1996

Voted YES on prohibiting job discrimination by sexual orientation.

Would have prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Status: Bill Defeated Y)49; N)50; NV)1
Reference: Employment Non-Discrimination Act; Bill S. 2056 ; vote number 1996-281 on Sep 10, 1996

Voted NO on Amendment to prohibit flag burning.

Approval of a constitutional amendment which would prohibit desecration or burning of the U.S. flag.
Status: Joint Res. Defeated Y)63; N)36
Reference: Flag Desecration Bill; Bill S. J. Res. 31 ; vote number 1995-600 on Dec 12, 1995

Voted NO on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds.

Vote to disallow any funds in the Legislative Appropriations bill from being used to award, require, or encourage any Federal contract, if the contract is being awarded on the basis of the race, color, national origin, or gender of the contractor.
Reference: Bill HR 1854 ; vote number 1995-317 on Jul 20, 1995

Rated 60% by the ACLU, indicating a mixed civil rights voting record.

Biden scores 60% by the ACLU on civil rights issues

We work also to extend rights to segments of our population that have traditionally been denied their rights, including Native Americans and other people of color; lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people; women; mental-health patients; prisoners; people with disabilities; and the poor. If the rights of society’s most vulnerable members are denied, everybody’s rights are imperiled.

Our ratings are based on the votes the organization considered most important; the numbers reflect the percentage of time the representative voted the organization's preferred position.

Source: ACLU website 02n-ACLU on Dec 31, 2002

Issue a commemorative postage stamp of Rosa Parks.

Biden co-sponsored issuing a commemorative postage stamp of Rosa Parks


LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Referred to Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs; never came to a vote.
Source: Rosa Parks Stamp (S.2154/H.R.4343) 05-S2154 on Dec 20, 2005

Rated 78% by the HRC, indicating a pro-gay-rights stance.

Biden scores 78% by the HRC on gay rights

OnTheIssues.org interprets the 2005-2006 HRC scores as follows:

About the HRC (from their website, www.hrc.org):

The Human Rights Campaign represents a grassroots force of more than 700,000 members and supporters nationwide. As the largest national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where GLBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

Ever since its founding in 1980, HRC has led the way in promoting fairness for GLBT Americans. HRC is a bipartisan organization that works to advance equality based on sexual orientation and gender expression and identity.

Source: HRC website 06n-HRC on Dec 31, 2006

Rated 100% by the NAACP, indicating a pro-affirmative-action stance.

Biden scores 100% by the NAACP on affirmative action

OnTheIssues.org interprets the 2005-2006 NAACP scores as follows:

About the NAACP (from their website, www.naacp.org):

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has worked over the years to support and promote our country's civil rights agenda. Since its founding in 1909, the NAACP has worked tirelessly to end racial discrimination while also ensuring the political, social, and economic equality of all people. The Association will continue this mission through its policy initiatives and advocacy programs at the local, state, and national levels. From the ballot box to the classroom, the dedicated workers, organizers, and leaders who forged this great organization and maintain its status as a champion of social justice, fought long and hard to ensure that the voices of African Americans would be heard. For nearly one hundred years, it has been the talent and tenacity of NAACP members that has saved lives and changed many negative aspects of American society.

Source: NAACP website 06n-NAACP on Dec 31, 2006

Re-introduce the Equal Rights Amendment.

Biden co-sponsored re-introducing the Equal Rights Amendment

Sen. KENNEDY. "It's a privilege to join my colleagues in reintroducing the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. The ERA is essential to guarantee that the freedoms protected by our Constitution apply equally to men and women. From the beginning of our history as a Nation, women have had to wage a constant, long and difficult battle to win the same basic rights granted to men. That battle goes on today, since discrimination still continues in many ways.

"Despite passage of the Equal Pay Act & the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s, discrimination against women continues to permeate the workforce and many areas of the economy. Today, women earn about 77 cents for each dollar earned by men, and the gap is even greater for women of color. More than 60% of working women are still clustered in a narrow range of traditionally female, traditionally low-paying occupations, and female-headed households continue to dominate the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

"A stronger effort is clearly needed to finally live up to our commitment of full equality. The ERA alone cannot remedy all discrimination, but it will clearly strengthen the ongoing efforts of women across the country to obtain equal treatment.

"We know from the failed ratification experiences of the past that amending the Constitution to include the ERA will not be easy to achieve. But the women of America deserve no less."

Source: Equal Rights Amendment (S.J.RES.10/H.J.RES.40) 2007-SJR10 on Mar 29, 2007

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