GOP Candidates’ Anti-Gay Stances: Winning Strategy, Or Out of Touch?
It feels like 1992 all over again. That year, an unsuccessful GOP presidential candidate, the right-wing fire breather Pat Buchanan, gave a speech at the party convention in which he coined the phrase "culture war" to describe such progressive issues as gay rights and abortion.
As this long-anticipated season of presidential primaries finally gets under way, most of the current crop of Republican candidates has been falling over each other to capture the votes of social conservatives and evangelical Christians by coming out strongly against abortion and gay rights.
Their votes are seen as solid gold to the Republicans' strategists. In 2008, 60 percent of voters in the Iowa caucuses were evangelicals. A similar number voted in the South Carolina primary that year.
It's a political truism that Republicans run to the right in primaries, just as Democrats run to the left, because that's where the votes are. Most candidates in both parties move to the center in general elections to capture the crucial independent voters.
What looks like a winning strategy in many of the primaries may prove to be a handicap in the general election, according to both straight pundits and gay political activists. EDGE conducted e-mail interviews with representative members of both groups.
Five candidates -- Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum -- have signed a pledge put forward by the National Organization for Marriage to oppose repeal of the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.
Homophobic One-Upping Each Other
The purported front-runner, Mitt Romney, did state recently that, overall, he supported gay rights. But he hastened to add that marriage should be only between one man and one woman. Interestingly, Romney is still catching flak from conservatives such as virulently anti-gay group Mass Resistance for being too much in favor of gay rights.
As for Santorum, he has stated that Romney is running to the left of President Barack Obama on same-sex marriage.
Gingrich has been particularly vocal in his anti-gay rhetoric. He recently blasted so-called activist judges for seeking "to limit the freedom of others to express their deeply held religious commitments to, for example, the value of every human life and to marriage as between one man and one woman."
In mid-December, Gingrich proposed a presidential commission on religious freedom that would investigate how students are being "force-fed beliefs about same-sex marriage, sexual orientation and abortion." He compared it to celibacy for priests.
Gingrich has gone so far as to reject LGBT Republicans. He told a gay Iowan he should vote for Obama. Not only GOProud, but the more moderate gay group the Log Cabin Republicans what Gingrich said They both contended that the liberal media misconstrued his remarks.
This Time, Blowback from Voters
Probably to their surprise, some very intrepid everyday Americans are challenging such statements. Throughout the present campaign season, the candidates' anti-gay positions have been getting blowback. Iowans questioned Bachmann for
her anti-marriage position.
Perry, too, was challenged for saying he would reinstitute the ban on gays serving openly in the military. A veteran, a straight man, shouted "Shame!" at him for a notorious ad that unfavorably compared serving openly in the military to prayer in schools. And a gay veteran quizzed Romney during a campaign stop in New Hampshire () on his opposition to same-sex marriage.
Marriage Equality USA has produced to find out how the contenders rank on a list of 12 gay rights issues.
Perhaps the candidates should be checking opinion polls before they say anything. Or they should look at the evolving positions of voters, which have evolved markedly since the last two presidential election cycles. A slight majority of all voters now support same-sex marriage.