That former Republican Party chairman and manager of George W. Bush's re-election campaign Ken Mehlman revealed that he is gay isn't a surprise; as many have noted, Mehlman's identity was widely known in Washington for some time. But what may be surprising is that the response from Republicans has been rather muted. The response from Ed Gillespie, another former chairman seems typical: Yeah, we know, but we're still opposed to gay marriage. It all reminded me of a column I wrote two years ago, on the occasion of Larry Craig's unfortunate encounter with the police in a bathroom in the Minneapolis airport:
The Republican Party of which Craig was such an honored member can abide many things -- dishonesty, incompetence, corruption, even a taste for prostitutes. All manner of sins can be forgiven, so long as the sinner proclaims his fealty to the cause. But there are some lines that may not be crossed. Over the last few years they have invested so deeply in anti-gay bigotry that they had no choice but to cast Craig from the Republican temple, and right quick. The party is running on culture war fumes. If there's one thing they've worked to make sure the public knows, it's that the GOP is the party that hates homosexuality, and if you do too, you'd better not cast your ballot for anyone else.
It isn't as though his GOP colleagues didn't know about Larry Craig already, though. Of course they did, just as they knew about Mark Foley, and just as they know about other prominent gay Republicans, including the longtime congressman recently denied a top spot in the leadership of the GOP caucus because, it was said at the time, many of his colleagues found him too "moderate." They are allowed to be who they are, just as Craig was, so long as the public remains ignorant and the Republican brand remains intact. Their closets are guarded closely by their fellow conservatives, with the understanding that should the door begin to open and enough people peer inside, they will be expelled without hesitation, years of loyal service notwithstanding.
But I'm not sure that's still completely true. It's not that they'll be inviting Mehlman to speak at the 2012 GOP convention or anything, but nor are prominent Republicans going to be issuing red-faced condemnations, shouting that Mehlman is a vile sodomite out to destroy America. Out-and-out bigotry against gays is no longer so acceptable in the Republican establishment, all the talk of "traditional marriage" notwithstanding (Warning: Offer does not apply to Muslims and Latino immigrants). It's true that you can only be a gay Republican when you're no longer actually working for Republicans. But it's progress.
-- Paul Waldman