Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Fiasco for Republicans

Blocking the Don't Ask, Don't Tell vote shows Republicans are out of step with gay rights, the civil rights issue of our time—and the party won’t grow until it reverses that stance, says Bush strategist Mark McKinnon.

Republican senators took a huge step backward Tuesday, blocking the vote to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military. To grow our party, the GOP must get right on the issue of gay rights. The Senate action sends a message of intolerance and intransigence on the civil rights issue of our time. Thankfully, another group of prominent Republicans is taking a big step forward Wednesday night, uniting in support of gay marriage.

I’m saying it loud: I’m a Republican who supports gay rights. And I’m proud of Ted Olson for having the cojones to make the conservative case for same-sex marriage.

In all my years of politics, I have met few people with the character and integrity of Ted Olson. He is as rock-solid a Republican as you’ll find anywhere. Olson served as U.S. solicitor general under President George W. Bush. He was an assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration; one of the founders of the conservative Federalist Society; board member of the very conservative American Spectator; and represented President George W. Bush in Bush v. Gore. His wife, Barbara, a lawyer and conservative commentator, was killed when Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.

In short, Ted Olson has unimpeachable conservative credentials. He is the perfect man to bear the Republican standard for gay rights. In a demonstration of principle over partisanship, Olson joined David Boies, his former adversary before the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, to successfully challenge Proposition 8, California’s Marriage Protection Act, in federal court. The Ninth Circuit Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the appeal of the overturning of Prop 8 the week of Dec. 6.

Republicans constantly claim to be the party that defends the Constitution. We have no legitimate right to that claim until we get right on gay rights.

“Many of my fellow conservatives have an almost knee-jerk hostility toward gay marriage,” Olson wrote in a Newsweek column, “The Conservative Case for Gay Marriage.” “This does not make sense, because same-sex unions promote the values conservatives prize. Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one’s own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society. The fact that individuals who happen to be gay want to share in this vital social institution is evidence that conservative ideals enjoy widespread acceptance. Conservatives should celebrate this, rather than lament it.”

Colin Woodward: Can Lady Gaga Break a Filibuster?Anthony Woods: End this Bigoted Policy NowThe 2008 presidential campaign manager for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Steve Schmidt, made a righteous case before the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative gay political action group, in April of this year: “I think Republicans should always be on the side of freedom and equal rights. I, and I believe most people, believe you are born with your sexuality. It is not a choice. It should offend us as Republicans and Americans when gays are denigrated as degenerates or un-American, or undeserving of the government’s protection of their rights. And the Republican Party should give voice to genuine outrage when anyone belittles the humanity of another person. It is offensive in the extreme to the values of this nation, and we should be in the forefront of rejecting such truly un-American prejudice. Moreover, if you believe we are born with our sexual orientation, it is hard to deny the inequality under the law that exists when people of one sexual orientation are allowed to marry and people of another are not.

“It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un-American or threatens the rights of others. On the contrary, denying two consenting adults of the same sex the right to form a lawful union that is protected and respected by the state denies them two of the most basic natural rights affirmed in the preamble of our Declaration of Independence—liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Republicans constantly claim to be the party that defends the Constitution. We have no legitimate right to that claim until we get right on gay rights. Sometime in the not too distant future, denying gays the right to marry will be viewed as historically corrupt—as corrupt as denying slaves their freedom.

It’s way past time for the GOP to get out of the Dark Ages on this fundamental issue. While many in our party are waking up, we are still nominating people like Christine O’Donnell, the Republican Senate primary winner in Delaware. In a 2006 interview, O’Donnell said: “Homosexuality is an identity adopted through societal factors. It’s an identity disorder.”

And this week, we discover the Montana Republican Party platform supports “keeping homosexual acts illegal.” The policy was originally adopted in 1997, after the Montana Supreme Court struck down laws that would make homosexual acts a crime, but according to Montana GOP director Bowen Greenwood, the policy remains because “nobody has ever taken the initiative to change it.” Thankfully, common sense still exists, as shown by Sen. John Brueggeman (R-MT), who said: “I looked at that and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Should it get taken out? Absolutely. Does anybody think we should be arresting homosexual people? If you take that stand, you really probably shouldn’t be in the Republican Party.”

I’m happy my Republican friends like Ken Mehlman and Israel Hernandez, who helped to elect and then served under President Bush, finally felt confident enough that they could declare their sexuality and not be ostracized by their party.

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On Wednesday night, Mehlman and other prominent Republicans (and Democrats) will be gathering in New York City to hear Olson and Boies discuss their landmark lawsuit overturning Prop 8, and to raise money for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. I want to thank everyone who is supporting this effort and encourage others, particularly my Republican friends, to come out of the Dark Ages. Go to the American Foundation for Equal Rights to find out how you can contribute and support this important effort.

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.