I used to consider myself a typical out-and-proud gay Democrat, but the Obama administration has managed to change that. It started early—on Day One, in fact: the inauguration. Reverend Rick Warren, a megachurch evangelical who has equated homosexuality with pedophilia and exported his hateful beliefs to Uganda, gave the invocation. Why did our president handpick such a divisive figure? Since then, the Democratic leadership on the Hill has ducked, stalled, or flat-out obstructed on a range of our issues.
Like a growing number of gay voters, this has driven me to ponder crossing over to the Dark Side. A gay Republican? Yeah, I know: Oxymoron! Denialist! Uncle Tom! But scope out the GOP and conservatives in general, and you may be surprised at all the pro-LGBT activity.
Consider the military’s ridiculous “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy. While the Obama administration has given tepid support to ending it, Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest gay GOP organization, has been working through the courts on a viable legal challenge. Then there’s the ongoing same-sex-marriage debate. Obama favors second-class civil unions. His administration has gone further: In a brief defending the despised Defense of Marriage Act, the Department of Justice compared gay marriage to incest and boasted that denying gay nuptials helps conserve Social Security funds. Locally, it’s not much better. In December, the New York Senate voted down gay marriage with the help of eight Democratic lawmakers. A month later, the Democratic-dominated New Jersey State Senate couldn’t pass a similar bill.
Meanwhile, national GOP figures like Meghan McCain, the outspoken daughter of John, are speaking out forcibly for gay rights. Meghan’s mom, Cindy, posed for the NoH8 campaign protesting Proposition 8, California’s gay marriage ban. Newly elected U.S. Senator Scott Brown shrugged off gay marriage as being “settled here in Massachusetts.” Even the left’s bête noire, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, has come out for marriage equality—as has former First Lady Laura Bush.
The most powerful and symbolic turnaround, however, has proved to be George W. Bush’s solicitor general, Ted Olson. He and his first wife, Barbara (who died on 9/11), were then-paragons of the right-wing intelligentsia. These days, the man who won Bush v. Gore in the U.S. Supreme Court is in a San Francisco federal courtroom, where he’s arguing, as he put it in a Newsweek essay, “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.”
Empowered by such allies, ultra-conservative gays have burst out of the closet. GOProud, an upstart group to the right of Log Cabin, co-sponsored the Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual beauty pageant for right-wing political candidates. As if on cue, the extreme right threatened a boycott, but prominent conservatives like influential Hot Air blogger Ed Morrissey embraced the sponsorship: “We should not allow a purity campaign to push away natural allies,” he wrote.
When Ryan Sorba, the outspokenly homophobic head of the California Young Americans for Freedom, spoke at CPAC, he went off-message to condemn CPAC’s inclusion of GOProud—and the crowd cut him off with jeers. “Even social conservatives came over and said, ‘We disagree with you, but we’re glad you’re here,’ ” says GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. Notorious right-wing U.S. Senator Tom Coburn went a step further and co-wrote an opinion piece with GOProud in the Advocate against Obamacare.
A gay conservative groundswell is also evident among the general voting public. While only 17 percent of self-identified gay, lesbian, and bi voters pulled the lever for George Bush in 2004, according to Los Angeles Times exit polls, the number increased to 27 percent for John McCain in 2008. “Not only have numbers been going up,” notes New York Log Cabin Chairman Gregory T. Angelo, “but donations have been increasing, and specific candidates have been doing outreach to us.”
The biggest recruiter for their cause, however, may be the Democratic Party itself. “When people come to the Log Cabin socials, a lot of them are disillusioned Democrats or turned off by being taken advantage of by their party,” Angelo says. “They want to find out what gay Republicans are doing to advance their issues. And when they see we are for equal rights, all of a sudden, they have their eyes opened.”
If it’s true that more and more estranged gay conservatives are returning to the fold, it’s due to pocket-book issues: “Many gay people may have been disillusioned by the conservative movement,” GOProud’s LaSalvia says. “But now, because of the out-of-control spending of the government, every day they’re reminded why they’re not Democrats.”
All well and good for the GOP mainstream, you say. But what about the new player in town, the Tea Party? If many individual members may well be homophobic, the party itself has tried to steer away from gay marriage. “Social issues don’t come into play at all,” Angelo says of the group. For proof of Tea Partiers’ inclusiveness, Log Cabin’s national spokesperson Charles Moran points to the group’s platform, the “Contract FROM America,” which contains no mention of “family values.”
That’s a far cry from the 1992 Republican National Convention, when Pat Buchanan delivered a fire-breathing anti-gay keynote speech. “We’ll never see that again,” Moran predicts. “What you will see on gay issues in the Republican Party is a consistent, slow move toward an acceptance of things that are already socially prominent, such as DADT.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Despite all the pro-gay rhetoric, the GOP still carries some ugly baggage. Only five Republican House members voted for the recent bill to repeal DADT. If GOP politicians can’t back a no-brainer like this bill, can they ever support gay causes?
Britain’s Tories would appear, at first glance, to be advancing the dual role of fiscal conservatism combined with gay-rights activism. Their leader—now the new prime minister—has embraced gay marriage. But Dan Pinello, who teaches political science at John Jay College, finds no comparison to our GOP. Small minorities are more crucial in a multi-party parliamentary democracy. Over here, the LGBT vote, which constitutes only about 4 percent of the electorate, doesn’t wield clout in elections above the ward leader level, especially compared with evangelicals. Plus, any Republican who takes moderate positions can look forward to a conservative primary challenge. Case in point: Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector, who was one of the most gay-friendly Republicans until he was forced to switched parties.
As I listened to Pinello, it became clearer that joining the GOP may not provide a solution for fed-up Democrats like me because our entire system is broken. We may just have to wait until
the bigots and hypocrites die out—in both parties—before we see real, permanent change.