Monday, June 06, 2005

GOP Leader Grilled Over Party's Stance on Gay Marriage and Homosexuality

Earlier this year gay activists in Washington, fed up with the national Republican Party’s support of federal and state constitutional amendments to ban same sex marriages, took aim at former Bush campaign chief and current Republican National Chairman, Ken Mehlman, and two of his top lieutenant’s, Dan Gurley and Jay Fanning. According to D.C. area gay activists and as reported on, Mehlman, Gurley and Fanning are all gay. Mehlman neither admitted nor denied the claim. The site pointed to a provocative internet ad Gurley had placed seeking sex with other men, making the claim against him nearly impossible to refute. Jay Fanning, long-time CFO of the Republican National Committee, had led an openly gay life prior to the disclosure and openly acknowledged his homosexuality when confronted with the question according to the report. Those making the claims against Mehlman, Gurley and Fanning believed it was hypocritical for them to assist the national party in supporting bigoted public policies against homosexuals while privately leading lives as homosexual men. The disclosures were widely reported in D.C. area gay media but completely ignored by the mainstream media.

Known for tough and unbiased questioning of his guests, NBC’s Meet the Press host Tim Russert, during this past Sunday’s show grilled his guest, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, at length about homosexuality and gay marriage without directly asking Mehlman if he was gay. Unbelievably, when asked whether he thought homosexuality was a choice, Mehlman responded, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Mehlman instead shifted the subject to President Bush’s belief in non-discrimination. Mehlman said of Bush, “He believes in equal treatment. He believes in respect for all.” Mehlman then, however, attempted to separate the equal treatment of gays and lesbians from the issue of marriage. According the Mehlman, “[t]he fundamental question of marriage ought to be defined in the way it’s been defined for more than 200 years of our nation’s history, which is by the people’s representative at the state legislatures.”

Mehlman must understand that advocates for discrimination have traditionally relied upon the mantle of states’ rights to further their aims. The states’ rights tradition enabled southern states to treat African-Americans as second-class citizens for an entire century after the adoption of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution at the conclusion of the civil war. The reason we have a Bill of Rights in both our federal and state constitutions is because the founders understood that you could not leave issues of fundamental fairness and equality to the will of the masses. They understood that at any given time a majority might be mustered to deny equality to a minority with whom the majority differed. That is why both our federal and state constitutions guarantee everyone certain fundamental rights which cannot be denied by the government or an oppressive majority.

In spite of the equal protection clause in both the federal and state constitutions, only sixteen states currently protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Most Americans still live in states where it is legally permitted to discriminate against persons because of their sexual orientation or identity. If President Bush truly believes gays and lesbians are entitled to equal treatment, then I ask Mr. Mehlman why Bush and the Republican Party have not joined together to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which already enjoys the support of more than a dozen Republican senators and representatives?

You cannot separate the issue of equal treatment and gay marriage as Mehlman argues. The only motivation for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage is to constitutionalize discrimination against homosexuals; it does absolutely nothing to protect heterosexual marriages as its proponents claim. It was similarly argued in the past that it was necessary to ban interracial marriages in order to protect this sacred institution, which was based upon a Christian fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Many southern states in fact once banned interracial marriages for this unfounded reason. No person of faith can credibly make this argument today, although it was once a prevailing Christian view. Just as the interracial marriage ban has been soundly rejected so must the gay marriage ban be rejected. Mehlman, a Harvard law graduate, knows better and should be ashamed of himself for arguing otherwise.

Undeterred by the Republican Party’s wrong-headed stance on this issue, Mehlman boasted to Russert during the interview that 23% of gay and lesbian voters supported President Bush for re-election. Instead of celebrating such a low achievement, Mehlman and the Republican Party should be asking themselves why 77% of this diverse group of Americans failed to support the President and what can the party do in the future to expand its base of support among this group of voters. It could begin by ending its embracement of the bigoted agenda of extremist Christian fundamentalists and returning to the roots of the Republican Party as the party of civil rights in this country.

The Republican National Committee should be applauded for its willingness to hire gay persons to fill such important positions in its organization. This demonstrates that Republicans at the highest level understand and respect gays and lesbians as equal persons. However, the party’s public policy positions are completely at odds with its own employment practices. Party leaders need to re-think its position on matters of civil rights if it wants to remain the majority party.

An exerpt of Russert’s Meet the Press exchange with Mehlman on June 5 is provided below:

MR. RUSSERT: Will the president continue to push for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage?

MR. MEHLMAN: The president strongly believes that marriage in this country ought to be between a man and a woman. He also believes it is something that ought to be decided by the people. He doesn't believe that judges ought to impose their will on the people. And because there have been a number of judicial decisions, most recently in Nebraska, that have made that decision for the people. He believes that a constitutional amendment is appropriate so the people can weigh in. It's something that's before the United States Senate. It's one of their agenda items they intend to move on this year, and I think we can expect to see them do that.

MR. RUSSERT: You've been trying to broaden the base of the Republican Party and yet Log Cabin Republicans, gay Republicans, issued this statement in the course of last year's election: " is impossible to overstate the depth of anger and disappointment caused by the President's support for an anti-family Constitutional Amendment. This amendment would not only ban gay marriage, it would also jeopardize civil unions and domestic partnerships. ... Some will accuse us of being disloyal. However, it was actually the White House who was disloyal to the 1,000,000 gay and lesbian Americans who supported him four years ago in 2000. Log Cabin's decision was made in response to the White House's strategic political decision to pursue a re-election strategy catered to the radical right. ... Using gays and lesbians as wedge issues in an election year is unacceptable to Log Cabin..."

MR. MEHLMAN: I would respectfully disagree with their statement on that. I think this is an issue in which there's some disagreement. The fact is if you look at the exit polls about 23 percent of gays and lesbians voted for this president, so lot of folks disagreed with what the Log Cabin Republicans said. I'm glad they're supporting the president's position on Social Security. But I think that fundamentally for the president and for millions of Americans, this is an issue of principle. Who should decide on a critical question of how we define marriage in this country? Should it be decided by an activist court or by the people? We believe the people should make this decision.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

MR. MEHLMAN: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't think it matters to the fundamental question here because at bottom, this president believes in non-discrimination. He believes in equal treatment. He believes in respect for all. He also believes, separate and apart from that question, that the fundamental question of marriage ought to be defined in the way it's been defined for more than 200 years of our nation's history, which is by the people's representative at the state legislatures.

MR. RUSSERT: But the Log Cabin Republicans will say if you're born gay, it's a biological determination, not a matter of choice.

MR. MEHLMAN: And that's--that may be, but the fact is that's irrelevant to question of the public definition of marriage. They're two totally different issues.

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