February, 1st 2011

A note about gays and the Republican Party

– Liz Mair

Last week, GOProud, a group founded by prominent gay conservatives I am proud to call my friends, announced that I would be joining its Advisory Council.  In the aftermath of that, I’ve heard from friends, family, and others asking or passing on one big question: Why in the world would gays choose to affiliate with the Republican Party and/or conservatism?

Well… with GOProud’s presence at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) having prompted at least some conservatives to abandon the CPAC ship, it’s pretty clear that there are at least a few self-described conservatives out there that don’t like “the gays” all that much and in particular seem to believe that if an individual happens to be attracted to someone with the same genitalia as them, they are somehow predisposed to abhor conservatism and conservative or otherwise right-leaning values (like, say, the kind that one associates with right-leaning libertarianism—my kind). 

That’s a convenient storyline, as it happens, for folks on the left who want to believe and argue—just like these conservatives-- that all gays should be naturally predisposed to being progressives or Democrats.  In fact, just like Republicans who argue that the GOP should be the only natural home for certain other constituencies (ahem, religious people), it’s a politically useful meme. 

However, the assumption that someone being attracted to a person with the same genitalia should make them inherently liberal, or should guarantee that their interests will always align with and be best represented by the Democratic Party, is a woefully ill-informed one.  Not only does it presuppose a sort of group homogeneity that I personally don’t think exists among any demographic group (nor should exist among any demographic group—we’re human beings, people, not clones!).  It also stereotypes and dumbs down the policy priorities of gay folks and manages to overlook a large array of public policy concerns that matter to many Americans—gay, and straight.

Let’s just get it out there: A lot of people think gays and lesbians are naturally and should be liberal/Democrats because—wait for it—gay people only or mainly care about what I shorthand term “gay stuff.”  You know, gay marriage, gay adoption, and so on and so forth.  And then, just as you have within the straight population, there are people who think marriage is nice, and want gay relationships recognized but also think hey, you know what’s equally or more important?  Killing terrorists, stopping ill-conceived policy like Obamacare, and not being spent-and-taxed to death. [intro]

Yes, it’s true: A lot of gays and lesbians do have concerns about the continued existence of the estate tax; concerns about the threat and potential spread of Islamic fundamentalism; concerns about the negative effects of Obamacare; concerns about our screwed up tax system, which takes too much money out of people’s pockets.  You know what you typically call people with those kinds of concerns, no matter whether they are attracted to guys or girls and have boobies or not?  You call them Republicans, conservatives, center-right, right-leaning libertarians, or some variation thereof.  You know what you don’t call them?  Liberals or Democrats.  You know what some people persist in calling them, though?  Naïve or stupid—terms that might be better suited to people who can’t see why someone who really hates taxes and wants more tax cuts (including for the rich!) might choose to affiliate with a party and ideology that have pretty consistently stood for that kind of thing over the last 30-plus years.

The reality of the situation is that the continued existence of the estate tax means that a partner in a same-sex relationship, unlike a husband or wife, cannot upon death transfer assets to their partner tax free.  That’s a big economic concern for a lot of folks, even with the tax threshold sitting where it does.  If you’re a gay multi-millionaire and you die, guess what, your partner probably gets to tangle with the IRS, and maybe loses your house.  If you’re a straight multi-millionaire and you die, your spouse doesn’t have to do that.  Yes, liberals have an answer for this: Let’s institute gay marriage everywhere!  But the truth is, not enough Americans (or Democrats!) are there yet to make that a political reality no matter how much they may will it to be the case, and so for as long as that situation persists, the Democratic Party’s position effectively appears to be—to many gays and non-gays alike—“screw the gays, let’s get the money in.”  So pardon GOProud supporters for preferring the alternative.

Let’s look at a foreign policy angle.  Goodness knows, if there’s one group of people in the world that really, really hates gay people, it’s Islamic fundamentalists.  And to the mind of many Americans—some straight, some not—it appears that large swathes of the Democratic Party aren’t deeply committed to combating Islamic fundamentalism in any significant way.  Call that a fair or an unfair charge, as you will, but if you take the view that using the United States’ military and diplomatic power to shut down Islamic fundamentalism and anti-democratic regimes, full stop, and defend, say, the state of Israel (the one place in the Middle East where it’s really OK to be gay) is best, it’s probably reasonable to suggest you have a more positive view of right-leaning foreign policy than left-leaning foreign policy these days.  You probably liked what you heard from John McCain more than Barack Obama.  And, oh, surprise… you just might be a Republican.

I could go on—there are countless examples to pick out across the policy spectrum where depending on a gay voter’s individual circumstances and priorities, it’s wholly probable that they staunchly affiliate as a conservative and align with the GOP.  But I won’t.  Because I know at least a few people reading this are still scratching their heads going “BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GAY STUFF?”  Well, fine, let’s talk about that, then.

Let’s start by looking at the public positioning of various elected and former elected officials on the very controversial issue of gay marriage, which I’d note some gay folks I know don’t even feel that strongly about.  (For the record, I favor it, but a lot of people are more concerned with ensuring equality of rights under the law, not the ability to use particular terminology, and by the by, as someone who did not have a religious wedding, I could care less if my relationship is deemed a “union” or a “marriage,” so long as it is recognized and respected). 

Let’s start with President Obama, the leader of the Democratic Party, since he’s the figure most in the public eye.  What’s that you say?  Obama is opposed to gay marriage? 

Yes, it’s true.  Obama is opposed to gay marriage, though he has mentioned that his views on the matter may evolve over time.  He’s also in favor of civil unions.  You know who else held that position—pro-civil unions, anti-gay marriage?  George W. Bush.  Bush, as we all know, is a Republican.  Members of his party did things like voted for Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.  But you know who else did?  Probably at least a few Obama voters.  Obama won California in 2008 with about 61 percent of the vote.  Prop 8 passed with about 52 percent of the vote.  Do the math; it can’t possibly have been McCain voters who put Prop 8 over the top, it was Democrats (or at least people who voted for the Democrat), and in a very liberal state, at that.

While we’re performing this little exercise, let’s take a look at the votes in the Senate and House on the Federal Marriage Amendment, the initiative to ban gay marriage nationwide, which was (admittedly) initiated by Republican Members of Congress.

In the Senate, seven Republicans voted against the amendment, and one Republican (Chuck Hagel) did not vote.  Interestingly, four Democrats failed to cast a “no” vote.  Many of those Democrats who voted “no” (the vote I would have taken, obviously) had previously espoused their strong opposition to gay marriage, for what it’s worth—all of which makes for a slightly more muddled picture than some folks like to pretend.

In the House, the “muddle” was even more evident: 34 Democrats voted for the amendment; 27 Republicans voted against, thus further emphasizing my point: Generalizations are always fun as a matter of rhetoric; the problem is that they don’t stand up as well under scrutiny as a lot of the rhetoricians like to pretend.

The votes in the Senate to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) and House votes on the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA) back in 2007 are also indicative of a more muddled picture.  Eight Republican senators—a hardly insubstantial number which included more conservative Republicans like Richard Burr and John Ensign—voted to repeal DADT.  When voted on in 2007, ENDA, legislation considered more controversial and less easily supported by a lot of gay conservatives themselves than DADT repeal, garnered the support of 35 House Republicans, including more conservative members like California’s John Campbell, Jeff Flake, Thaddeus McCotter, and Paul Ryan.  25 Democrats voted against the legislation.  Unless you track this stuff as closely as I do, or more closely, that’s probably not what you thought happened, right?  Well, it did.  And that adds a little more color to explanations of why, actually, many gays don’t feel uncomfortable backing Republicans or indeed conservatives.   It’s certainly worth noting that in 2008, as against the previous presidential election, many gays felt warmer to the GOP ticket.

Bottom line: Is it true that there are Republicans and conservatives out there that don’t like gays?  Yes.  Is it also true that Democrats do not universally, consistently represent the interests of gay people in all their diversity?  Yes.  Is it true that there are more than three Republicans and conservatives out there who demonstrably move the ball forward every day in the eyes of gay folks and their allies who are deeply, deeply committed to the principles of limited government, free markets and a robust foreign policy?  Definitely.   And for as long as that is true, there’s a good reason for at least some gay people to identify themselves with the GOP, and for people to keep calling bullshit on the tired meme that all gays are and should be liberals and the Democratic Party does a great job of advancing the interests of gay voters.

That, as it happens, is something that GOProud is really good at. Keep your eye on them.



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