Yesterday former Republican National Committee Chairman and Bush campaign chief Ken Mehlman publicly announced he was gay. That doesn’t particularly interest me — it’s his business and it wasn’t the world’s most closely guarded secret — but it has occasioned some commentary on the Republican Party and conservative movement that is interesting.
The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambinder charges that “Mehlman’s leadership positions in the GOP came at a time when the party was stepping up its anti-gay activities.” His evidence for these claims? The “distribution in West Virginia in 2006 of literature linking homosexuality to atheism” and “the less-than-subtle, coded language in the party’s platform.”
Give me a break. That West Virginia literature was an isolated example in a disastrous year for Republicans nationwide. The Republican Party’s public opposition to same-sex marriage, on the other hand, was hardly coded or obscure. In fact, the emphasis on the redefinition of marriage reflected a conscious strategy even by social conservatives to move the focus on that issue away from homosexuality toward the definition of marriage itself.
The marriage ballot initiatives in 2004 and 2006 came in direct response to the judicial imposition of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts through a court case in 2003 that took effect in 2004. The federal Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 was in direct response to a similar ruling Hawaii in 1993. Proposition 8 in California was a response to a Massachusetts-style state supreme court ruling overturning California’s Proposition 22, which was passed in response to a Massachusetts-style ruling in Vermont.
Now, you can think opposition to same-sex marriage is wrong or misguided. But the fact is, most campaigns against it were not undertaken just for the hell of it. They were undertaken to reverse legislative or judicial gains made by the other side. The real story is how many people in the Republican leadership benefit politically from social issues that they don’t really care about, have no interest in doing anything about, and on which they often sympathize with the other side.