Some Republicans are portraying their recent support for same-sex marriage as revolutionary, but there's nothing remarkable, different, or progressive about what they're doing.
Last month, 131 Republicans, all of which support the overturn of California’s Proposition 8 as unconstitutional, jointly filed a “Friend of the Court” legal brief at the Supreme Court. Their brief argues that there is no factual, valid, governmental reason to deny marriage to same-sex couples and families, and that extending civil marriage to include them strengthens the institution of marriage itself and promotes conservative principles such as liberty, family, child-rearing, social stability, and judicial restraint.
Given the party’s long track record of oppressing LGBT people, couples, and families, this filing might seem like a remarkable turnabout. But these Republican Friends offered no new ideas not already filed by lots of other Friends, and none of these 131 Republican Friends are party leaders. That renders their filing neither revolutionary nor even remarkable, except for highlighting that party leaders haven’t changed at all.
In 2008, the state supreme court ruled that same-gender couples had the same marriage rights as mixed-gender couples. Shortly thereafter, the voters passed Proposition 8, which amended the California constitution to ban marriage for all same-gender couples and their families. Ironically, California’s domestic partner law guarantees that same-gender couples receive the exact same rights and responsibilities as mixed-gender couples do; the only difference is that they lack the word “marriage.” Like Jim Crow laws directed solely at African Americans, like Nazi Germany laws directed solely at Jews, and like anti-tribe laws directed solely at Native Americans, Proposition 8 is an anti-LGBT measure directed solely at same-gender couples and their families, for no legitimate governmental purpose.
The Republicans who signed the brief include civil servants, politicians, members of Congress, campaigners, and private business people who were active at various points over the last 40 years. They range from the formerly prominent (Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, 2001-2005) to the never prominent (Massachusetts state Representative Patrick Guerriero, 1993-1997), and include those who’ve supported same-gender marriage anywhere from several months (former Utah Governor John Huntsman, 2005-2009) to several years (U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen).
The effort was spearheaded by Project Right Side, an organization that “performs research and analysis to help improve the political climate for gay and lesbian issues across the political spectrum.” The non-partisan non-profit is the brainchild of former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, a man with credentials and contacts that any political operative would envy.
His data analysis factory shows that while 65% of Republican voters favor LGBT rights, and only 29% oppose, there is a grave disconnect between the party’s more tolerant voters and its intolerant leadership, which he admits is “robustly anti-gay.” Mehlman is correct. The proof was written right into the Republican party platform, which vows to oppress LGBT people via higher taxes, reduced employee benefits, immigration bans, adoption bans, and the outlawing of same-gender couples via the U.S. Constitution.
Despite several months of campaigning using his killer contact list, and a nation of 50 million Republicans to draw from, Ken and his friends got only 131 signers, 83% of whom are no longer active in their positions. None of the signers are current party leaders. Those who did sign deserve credit for speaking their minds, but only two of those 131 signers are federal lawmakers now. No one should be surprised if rabid, far right elements work overtime to defeat them at the polls, because that kind of ostracism is common. In April 2012, the Romney campaign hired Richard Grenell as its foreign policy spokesperson based on his sterling recommendations from Bush-era diplomats. Three weeks later he resigned after waves of outragefrom the Republican party’s religious right wing forced Romney to muzzle Grenell into silence. Last spring, Grenell was hoping to make his fiancé his husband, but made the mistake of agreeing to campaign for a man who had publicly signed a written vow promising to ban same-gender marriage — via the Constitution, no less.
So who is missing from this court brief? Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former First Lady Laura Bush are missing, but each can be seen on newscasts supporting same-gender marriage, so they should have signed. But they didn’t.
And the three Republican leadership team names that would have carried weight with most Supreme Court justices (all the Republican ones), not to mention the public at large, also are conspicuously absent: Speaker of the House John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. But those men can’t file any briefs supporting same-gender marriage, because they’re too busy filing briefs opposing it.
Despite a strong, long-term national increase in public support for same-gender marriage, there’s still residual hostility toward Republican lawmakers who do so: in the 8 times that state lawmakers voted on same-gender marriage, an average of only 6 Republicans dared to vote in favor each time. Today, most of those who did are no longer in office.
Consider the case of Ken Mehlman, who was the most powerful Republican ever to identify as gay when he came out at age 43 in 2010. He held GOP leadership positions while his party ran damaging anti-LGBT measures in 2004 and 2006. Mehlman lobbies lawmakers and writes editorials to increase support for same-gender marriage, and he raises funds to repeal or overturn California Proposition 8. On the other hand, he donates funds to Republican lawmakers like U.S. Representative Roy Blunt (who wants same-gender marriage banned) and U.S. Senator John McCain (who wanted LGB military personnel banned). He also raises funds for Speaker of the House John Boehner (who is spending $3 million taxpayer dollars paying private lawyers to oppose marriage equality in 14 court cases across the nation, including a case at the Supreme Court this month).
America still has 37 states with Republican-sponsored laws and/or constitutional amendments banning same-gender marriage, and 21 of those bans were arranged during Mehlman’s tenure. Each one of those 37 states will consume years of effort and millions of dollars to pass the necessary repeals. Mehlman is, all at once, three kinds of out: out of the closet, out of the Republican leadership, and out to reverse what his party did back when he ran it. It took 148 years for Mississippi to ratify the 13th Amendment ending slavery, so it could easily take the rest of Mehlman’s political career to repeal his party’s 29 marriage ban amendments, and 33 laws, in 39 states.
That will be even harder than it sounds, because state chapters of the Republican party still intend to ban gays and lesbians from the military (e.g., Texas), to outlaw mentioning that LGBT people even exist (Wyoming), and to criminalize sex between consenting adults who are gay or lesbian (e.g., Oklahoma). And the Republican National Committee is still calling for bi-national, same-gender spouses to be deported, for military same-gender spouses to be denied survivor benefits, and for heavy estate taxes on all same-gender couples.
The Log Cabin Republicans club is unique: a 36-year old, conservative, political lobby for LGBT people. In comparison, GOProud, a vastly smaller, much newer committee of conservatives, was formed by ex-LCR members who considered LCR to be too “liberal” (relatively speaking). GOProud isn’t all gay, but it has some gay members. And it’s so arch-conservative that until early this year, its own members considered marriage equality too radical to pursue. Only after most Americans had endorsed same-gender marriage — in multiple nationwide polls — would GOProud even touch the issue.
Despite LCR’s committed conservatism, however, it is too timid to even attempt to buy tickets ($195 - $1,000) to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the premier annual convention for conservatives sponsored by the American Conservative Union, meeting this month just a few blocks outside Washington, D.C., featuring former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, and National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, among others. And, for the second year in a row, GOProud is outright banned. On the other hand, among its 10,000 participants, panelists, and speakers, CPAC welcomes members of white nationalist hate groups. The CPAC convention gives white supremacists better hospitality than it gives to LCR and GOProud. That’s just how untouchable gay people still are to other conservatives.
So, Ken Mehlman donates to Republican leaders who work to defeat Mehlman’s own goals. Richard Grenell agrees to campaign for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who vowed to prevent Grenell’s own wedding. The gay conservative club works for years to secure marriage equality, and then endorses a candidate who promised to ban it. Laura Bush refuses to let a public service ad replay just one sentence that she spoke on a news show three years ago. And the premier conservative convention treats gay conservatives as more toxic than white supremacists.
Yes, the Republican psyche is suffering from a split personality.
The Republican Party has light-years to travel before it can erase its decades of harm to the LGBT community. The principles advocated by Mehlman and his friends are laudable, and are the nation’s future. But the individual signatories to his brief are too few, too obscure, and/or too inactive. To make a true difference, each and every one of his 131 signers needs to enlist the support of an additional 250,000 Republicans.
Together, those 32 million people can shed the party of its brand-name, bedrock culture for oppressing LGBT people, couples, and families.
Ned Flaherty is a Projects Manager at Marriage Equality USA, an organization which has worked with Log Cabin Republicans on marriage equality campaigns. In this article he represents himself, not either organization. He writes from Boston, Massachusetts.