It's him all right — sitting in a wheelchair with his mismatching, brightly-colored socks — former President George H.W. Bush, the official witness at a same-sex wedding. Now that's an eye-catching endorsement.
Bush and his wife attended the matrimony of long-time friends Helen Thorgalsen and Bonnie Clement in Maine last Saturday. Thorgalsen posted a photo of 89-year-old Bush signing official documents for them on her Facebook page.
What does it mean when America's 41st president, a classic Southern Republican, shows up at a same-sex wedding? It shows at least his acceptance of gay marriage, and it would be a wise move for the GOP to follow suit.
Recent reports and surveys have shown that increasing numbers of U.S. citizens support gay marriage, Catholics included. But traditional marriage has long been one of GOP's guiding principles, and they have been sticking to it. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court decided to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. The Act allowed states to deny federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples, and the GOP had spent a lot of taxpayer money defending it in court. In doing so, Republicans have built themselves the image of being opponents of equality. The elder Bush's move to attend a same-sex wedding, albeit as a "private citizen and friend," may be a sign that the GOP is finally willing to evolve with changing cultural values.
And it's not just Bush. Other notable Republicans including former vice-president Dick Cheney, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski have openly expressed their support. Former South Carolina Senator John Hawkins, architect for the state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, admitted last week that he was wrong and now declares himself a full supporter of equal marriage. Old Bush's grandson, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, said in a speech last month that "families don't look all the time like they used to, and that's okay."
Others have yet to budge, like Old Bush's son George W. Bush, who declined to comment on his father's attendance to the wedding because he was "out of politics." It's a tough challenge ahead for the Republicans. It might just take more than attending gay marriages to show they are shifting with public opinion, all the while maintaining conservative support.