On one hand it's a good thing that former RNC Chair and Bush's 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman came out of the closet, the most prominent Republican to do so thus far.
I of course applaud anyone who comes out, even if they've been comfortable with their sexual orientation personally for some time. Some people treat being gay like it's a dirty secret, a "private matter" that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company, but in addition to the fact that straight people freely parade their sexuality all over the place, keeping mum about your sexual orientation helps gay people remain the invisible targets of discrimination. Statistics show that someone is more likely to support gay rights if he or she knows someone gay personally -- and vice versa -- so one can only hope that having a prominent Republican come out will help, at least in a small way, the party move away from its virulently anti-gay agenda.
However, as critics have pointed out, Mehlman stood by idly as the Bush administration pushed the Federal Marriage Amendment -- a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage nationwide -- and as Karl Rove used gay marriage as a wedge issue during the 2004 elections. He regrets this:
[Mehlman] said that he "really wished" he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, "so I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]" and "reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans."
The reasoning here is tough to follow. Mehlman doesn't explain exactly how his discomfort with his sexual orientation and his complicity with the Bush administration's anti-gay policies relate to each other. Was he afraid that if he objected, he'd be outed? Or was his complicity with the Bush agenda a reflection of self-hatred? Who knows.
One can feel sorry for Mehlman and his personal struggle with his sexuality, but we are not talking about just any conflicted 40-something trying to figure out who he is. Mehlman is also a public figure, and my sympathy ends where his responsibility to the public begins.
The Federal Marriage Amendment was, as Andrew Sullivan said, the "most radical attack on a minority since Jim Crow" -- one that threatened to inject prejudice into our founding document and permanently strip gay people of the right to fight for marriage through the political process. Thankfully, that did not come to pass. But, fueled by Bush-era anti-gay fervor, no fewer than 13 states amended their constitutions to forbid gay people form getting married; six stripped gay people of adoption rights. Riling up anti-gay prejudice isn't a harmless political ploy; it has real consequences for how gay people are able to move and live in the world.
As a powerful Republican tasked with advising Bush's political team, Mehlman had the moral obligation -- and was in an ideal position -- to voice opposition. He didn't need to hold a gay pride parade to do it, either -- as a conscientious member of Bush's political team, he could merely have suggested that bigotry wasn't the best political platform. Put another way, Mehlman's personal struggles and sexual orientation are irrelevant. Straight people have a moral obligation to stand up to prejudice when it arises, too. Failing to do so just means you have no courage, gay or straight.
-- Gabriel Arana
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