So is Mitt Romney for gay rights or not?
You have to wonder why some gay advocates - like a few believers in birth control, global warming and evolution - remain loyal Republicans even as the right wing drags their party back to the beginning of the 20th century, if not the 19th. While governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney planted himself mostly in the future. The likely Republican presidential pick has since renounced his modern views to appease the party's powerful social conservatives.
Problem is, you can't live in two eras at once. This week, Romney sought an endorsement from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Democrat, former Republican and powerful independent. Last February, as Romney demanded an end to public funding of Planned Parenthood, Bloomberg sent the group a check for $250,000. That breakfast chat must have been lively.
Another social cloudburst soaked the party this weekend, when Richard Grenell quit the Romney campaign as spokesman on foreign policy. The openly gay Grenell apparently had been targeted by social conservatives, notably one Bryan Fischer, an evangelical obsessively interested in homosexuality. The campaign made Grenell oddly invisible during the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
Let the record note that Grenell was already in some trouble for having sent tweets about Callista Gingrich's hair looking "snapped on" and Rachel Maddow being a "dead ringer" for Justin Bieber. He should have kept the fashion commentary to himself. Frankly, it wouldn't ruin my day to learn that "shtoopid" sexist quips have become a political hazard - or at least a rap to be piled onto more serious charges. But it was anti-gay forces that decisively ended Grenell's brief stint on Team Romney. Fischer characterized the resignation as "a huge win."
Although he expressed regrets at the departure, Romney withheld a full-throated defense of the man whom President George W. Bush had added to his United Nations delegation without incident. Romney weakly stated that Grenell had made the decision "for his own personal reasons."
Why are so many gay Republicans sticking around through all this? I asked R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a group of GOP gays and lesbians. He offered an interesting reply:
Advances in gay rights have forced its foes to make a last stand before all is lost. Such groups as the National Organization for Marriage, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council opposed repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, which forbade openly gay soldiers to serve in the military. They fought against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which banned discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation. Both measures passed with bipartisan support.
"If you're one of those groups, you see what's happening," Cooper said. "It's getting their dander up. They're getting angry and extremely aggressive."
And so why don't gay Republicans boycott the election in protest of the anti-gay hostility their party leaders tolerate, even when they personally don't share it?
The reason they don't, Cooper explained, is again tied to progress. For the first time, two openly gay Log Cabin Republicans are running for Congress - Paul Babeu in Arizona and Richard Tisei in Massachusetts. "So we can't sit out elections," he said.
Cooper recalls speaking to Romney right after the candidate's speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. He told Romney something like: "All right. Great speech, except for the part about not supporting same-sex marriage and claiming you supported it as governor (though he didn't quite)."
Romney can go through the next six months sloshing through his contradictions, but a saggy center will not hold. He should choose his century, preferably this one.
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