04.13.09

Memo to the GOP: Go Gay

Republican resistance to gay marriage goes against conservative values—and our own self-interest.

This week, I will be speaking at the Log Cabin Republicans' national convention in support of the gay community and its role in the future of the Republican Party. Of all the causes I believe in and speak publicly about, this is one of the ones closest to my heart.

The Log Cabin Republicans’ mission "is to work within the Republican Party to advocate equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians." The group is centered on core Republican values, such as limited government, individual liberty and responsibility, an economy based in free markets, and a strong national defense. And in the spirit of the GOP’s founding beliefs—personal freedom and liberty—they are dedicated to securing full equality for gays and lesbians in America to create a stronger, larger, and more-unified GOP.

What I found most interesting about the Log Cabin Republicans is where and when they got their start: in California, during the late '70s. At the time, much of the progress made in securing equal rights for gays was drawing a backlash. A successful movement to overturn antidiscrimination laws in Dade County, Florida, was led by singer Anita Bryant. States like Arkansas and Oklahoma prohibited gays from teaching jobs. And a California Republican state senator suggested a proposition for voters to keep gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. (At one point, the initiative was leading in polls with more than 60 percent of voters supporting it.) In the end, voters rejected the proposition in November 1978, by a margin of more than a million votes. While several prominent Democrats and Republicans rallied to secure its defeat, one Republican in particular helped turn the tide—former California Governor Ronald Wilson Reagan.

President Obama, for instance, is also against gay marriage—a dirty little secret many of my gay friends were shocked to discover. But you’d never know it because he always "sounds" so inclusive.

Yeah, you read that right. The ultimate Republican rock star bucked the conventional wisdom of his advisers as they were planning his presidential campaign and helped fight the anti-gay proposition because he knew it was wrong. Reagan’s argument centered around the idea that parents already had all the rights they needed to protect their children and that the government did not need to interfere. It was a perfect example of the Great Communicator doing what was right, but not in a way that further divided voters.

David Mixner, a well-known Democratic gay activist, went to Reagan for help prior to the election. Mixner has been quoted, when recalling the meeting: "Never have I been treated more graciously by a human being. He turned opinion around and saved that election for us... We would have been in deep trouble. He just thought it was wrong and came out against it." As a result of Reagan’s success, and the proposition’s defeat, gay conservatives founded the Log Cabin Republicans to continue their fight for equality and to champion GOP ideals. So the group isn’t just about something I feel passionate about, its roots are directly connected to one of the most successful and loved Republican presidents of all time—that’s a movement I can believe in!

So why are gay issues so important to me? At the most basic level, sexual orientation should not be a factor in how you are treated. If the Republican Party has any hope of gaining substantial support from a wider, younger base, we need to get past our anti-gay rhetoric. As you can imagine, the road for gay Republicans hasn't been an easy one. Most seem to find the words "homosexual" and "conservative" inherent contradictions, much the same way so many people can’t seem to reconcile fiscal conservatism and the big-tent philosophy of freedom and justice for all. A dear friend of mine who’s both gay and Republican told me, “I find myself constantly being asked how I can reconcile who I am as a person with a party that lately has had such a gay-unfriendly message. Where I stand politically doesn't begin and end with my sexuality. Unfortunately, there is a perception that gays with moderate to conservative views are self-loathing.” He often jokes that when he goes out, he wonders how his dates will react when they find out about his political beliefs. Then again, we have talked about if it has affected his work or career in any way and his answer is no—people are always respectful.

This dichotomy has been addressed on shows like The West Wing and in many other political commentaries in the past. Sometimes, gay Republicans are regarded in the same vein as “Jews for Hitler,” but my father garnered nearly 28 percent of the gay vote in the last election—up from the 20 percent President George W. Bush received in 2004—and there are nearly 20,000 declared members of the Log Cabin Republicans.

But it isn't just the GOP’s opposition to gay marriage that makes the party seem unwelcoming toward gay voters. It’s the anti-gay rhetoric they use to whip up the base. Recently, a conservative congressman was quoted saying, “If we don't save marriage, we can't remain pro-life." That's absurd. President Obama, for instance, is also against gay marriage—a dirty little secret many of my gay friends were shocked to discover during the presidential campaign. But you’d never know it because he always "sounds" so inclusive.

I am determined to build a more-inclusive GOP not by making us "sound" more inclusive, but by doing it. And I know people are out there waiting for it to happen. One of the speakers I’m most looking forward to meeting at the Log Cabin Republicans' convention is former New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman. She’s a role model for women in politics, and she was also ahead of her time in calling for a more-inclusive Republican Party. Whitman began talking about the changes we need to see happen in the GOP years ago—way before it was popular, and way before conservatives had the guts to agree with her. (Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis, a well-respected Republican lawmaker who has made no bones about his desire to see the GOP move on from its obsession over social issues, is also speaking. I understand that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was invited to speak, but was unable to schedule an appearance.)

Recently, the former policy director of Log Cabin Republicans, Jimmy LaSalvia, launched GOProud—a 527 organization “committed to a traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy” and is meant to represent gay conservatives and their political allies. As Christian Berle, this year’s Log Cabin Republicans convention manager says, “The Republicans are the party of the Abe Lincoln—working to achieve equality for all. In that spirit, [we] encourage all Republicans to remember our party’s commitment to and respect for limited government, individual liberty, and personal freedoms—the bedrock for a sound and strong democracy. Affirming and codifying gay and lesbian relationships strengthens communities, eliminates confusion, and builds a stronger citizenry.”

I am a woman who despises labels and boxes and stereotypes. Recently, I seemed to have rocked a few individuals within my party by saying that I am a pro-life, pro-gay-marriage Republican. So if anyone is still confused, let me spell it out for you. I believe life begins at conception and I believe that people who fall in love should have the option to get married. Lest we forget, our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, grants the same rights to everyone in this country—“All men are created equal.” If you think certain rights should not apply to certain people, then you are saying those people are not equal. People may always have a difference of opinion on certain lifestyles, but championing a position that wants to treat people unequally isn't just un-Republican. At its fundamental core, it's un-American.

At the end of the day, speaking at the Log Cabin Republicans' convention isn’t just about reaching out to the gay community—although I believe doing so is vital to the future success of the party. It’s also about reaching a wider base and redefining what it means to be Republican, and leaving labels, stereotypes, and negativity by the wayside. That more and more people are discussing gay rights speaks positively for the millions of young and progressive Republicans waiting for our party to return to its roots. Personal freedoms are what makes this country the greatest country in the world. And just like the civil-rights and feminist movements before this, the movement toward gay equality and gay marriage is one I have absolute faith will triumph over prejudices. Moreover, I believe the Republican Party has, at this moment, the opportunity to come forward and play an instrumental role in securing gay rights. That's why I'm speaking at the Log Cabin convention and couldn't be prouder to be doing so. And yes, I'm still a Republican. Get used to it.

Meghan McCain is originally from Phoenix. She graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She previously wrote for Newsweek magazine and created the Web site mccainblogette.com.