On Eradicating Gay Republicans

30 September 2004

By Stentor Danielson

It can be tough to figure out which side to support in today's political debates. The issues are complex enough on their own. A lazy media vulnerable to spinning by party apparatchiks makes it tough to get the full story. Candidates and backers of this or that measure obfuscate and "nuance" their stances to draw in as broad a base of support as they can.

But if you're gay, you don't have to worry about it. While we heterosexuals agonize over where to stand, homosexual Americans have only one choice: to go along with what the conventional wisdom says is the pro-gay stand. If you're a gay Republican, prepare to be reviled by those who see themselves championing your rights. If you're a gay lawmaker, you'll have to face "outing" if you so much as think about backing the Federal Marriage Amendment.

I happen to support the positions that the conventional wisdom defines as pro-gay -- nondiscrimination and hate crimes protection with respect to sexual orientation, full marriage equality for both same- and opposite-sex couples, etc. I think it's morally reprehensible for a homosexual person to oppose such measures, ceteris paribus. But it's also morally reprehensible for a straight person to oppose them. My disagreement is not with the ends pursued by certain segments of the gay rights movement. It's with their assumption that those ends justify any means.

Take the case of homosexual Republicans. They're in an unenviable position, as homophobia runs deep in much of the modern GOP -- so deep that the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of conservative homosexuals, has declined to endorse President Bush in this election. Liberal activists have seized on this fact to attack gay Republicans, accusing them of treason to the cause. But there's more to the Republican Party than gay-bashing. I happen to be an Iraq dove who supports repealing the Bush tax cuts. But if you're a tax-cutting hawk, the Republicans have a lot to offer you. It's entirely reasonable to conclude that foreign policy is of more importance than gay rights. The mistake made by the liberal activists is to essentialize homosexuals, assuming that their sexual orientation must be the primary shaper of their politics.

Aside from a few prominent folks like Andrew Sullivan, homosexual Republican voters face only a generalized impersonal loathing. But elected officials who are gay but don't toe the gay rights line face a more insidious and personal tactic: outing. Activists are furiously digging up dirt on Republicans' sex lives, hoping to find that those whose votes have hindered the cause are actually engaging in a bit of clandestine sodomy. The threat of outing can keep these closeted Republicans in line, and following through on the threat can score some sweet revenge against an opponent.

The justification offered for this vindictive outing is that it exposes hypocrisy. That would hold water if, say, the target had made a trip Massachusetts for a marriage license before voting against the FMA. But there's no logical contradiction between having a certain type of sex and believing that people who engage in that kind of sex should not be allowed to marry.

It's unclear how many homosexual Republicans actually subscribe to this sort of nuanced position. Likely most of them are practicing their own balancing act, reasoning that it's worth sacrificing their views on homosexuality to the whims of a homophobic electorate in order to retain their seat to do more important work on issues like taxes or foreign policy. This kind of prioritizing happens all the time in politics.

Whatever closeted elected officials' excuse, outing is a Pyrrhic tactic. It gains its effectiveness from the harsh attitudes many in our society hold toward homosexuality. By outing politicians, gay rights activists are using homophobia for their own ends. Nobody deserves politically-motivated prying into their personal life, and nobody deserves to feel the wrath of homophobes.

What's more, an aggressive outing campaign will simply reinforce the GOP's view that the "big tent" need not be big enough for homosexual candidates. They would simply be too much of a risk. The GOP will sacrifice its gay candidates, replacing them with straight homophobes, before it sacrifices its anti-gay platform. True victory for any cause comes not from destroying the enemy, but from converting them. Same-sex marriage will be safe when it's a no-brainer to both parties, the way interracial marriage is today.

We need to reject the idea that one's identity should determine one's vote. I doubt any liberal activists will try to talk me out of voting for John Kerry, despite the fact that the self-interest of straight white middle-class men is better served by the Republicans. By the same token, there's nothing uniquely reprehensible in a homosexual supporting a reprehensible homophobic agenda.

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