August, 25th 2010

Ken Mehlman comes out

– Liz Mair

Marc Ambinder has the news:

Ken Mehlman, President Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay.

Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter's questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.

"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman said. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."

Go read the whole thing.

Already, notorious gay-Republican-outer (and life-destroyer) Mike Rogers is out there trashing Mehlman.  Other gay liberals are doing the same.

Meanwhile, the overall response I'm hearing from conservative friends-- including those who oppose gay marriage, supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, and oppose initiatives like ENDA and hate crimes legislation, is ranging from "meh, no big deal" to "good for him"-- both of which seem like appropriate responses here, but are, I'm afraid, not what we're going to hear from the ostensibly pro-equality side over the next 24 hours.  That's too bad, because this is kind of a big deal-- and something that actually speaks volumes about how much society has changed when it comes to how we perceive gay men and lesbians, and frankly how they perceive themselves within it.

I'm a straight woman, so I really know nothing firsthand about how hard (or not) it is to come out of the closet.  But I do know that a number of my gay friends who work in politics, both liberals and conservatives, have found it to be among the toughest things they've ever done.  For Republicans, it is especially hard because irrespective of where you personally have been on issues like gay marriage, gay adoption, anti-discrimination law, and so on, there is a perception that if you're gay, you're genetically programmed to be a liberal.  And if you think keeping taxes and spending low is important enough that you've been willing to work for someone who isn't in favor of gay marriage, well, goodness knows you'll be dubbed a hypocrite, traitor and worse, all because you refuse to let your sexual orientation guide your political philosophy.  Frankly, that's something that those of us who are straight and pro-gay marriage, pro-DADT repeal, and so on on the right side of the aisle deal with anyway.  But put it on steroids and that, I suspect, is the situation that Ken Mehlman anticipated he'd face when coming out, and now it is likely to take shape, rather predictably.

It shouldn't.  Ultimately, those who favor equality in every aspect of life, under the law, should be glad they have a new champion on the right side of the aisle-- typically seen, often with good cause, as less gay-rights-friendly than the left side of the aisle.  They should be glad that increasingly, we have prominent examples of gay and lesbian Republicans to remind us all that we live in a country that is so equality-minded in practice that actually, a former chairman of the RNC-- one of the most powerful and influential political operatives in his party-- can come out, wave the flag, and argue for a conservatism that accepts everyone who loves freedom, regardless of who they are attracted to, and what genitalia they have.

There are a lot of countries where Mehlman saying what he did to Marc Ambinder would make him a de facto criminal.  We're fortunate to live in one where people can be and say who they are, with pride-- both in terms of their sexual orientation, and in terms of their political philosophy.

Ken Mehlman no doubt lifted a great weight off his own shoulders by coming out.  But he also did a politically powerful thing whose effects will be felt for some time.  If you believe polling that shows that society becomes more gay-friendly the more people become aware that they have a gay friend, a gay relative, and perhaps in this case also, a gay political mentor, or a gay advocate for their philosophy, then Ken Mehlman single-handedly has probably helped move the country, and the Republican party, in a more gay-friendly and equality-minded direction.  That's a good thing that should earn him some respect, if not praise, from those who have vigorously disagreed with political stances taken by his former boss, George W Bush, and the maneuverings of folks like Karl Rove.  As a Republican who favors gay marriage, gay adoption, and DADT repeal, I can tell you I'm much happier knowing Mehlman is out, and is engaging on the marriage issue, specifically.  If he could engineer victory for George Bush, imagine how he might be able to help on that front alone. [intro]



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