As far as the battles between gay activists and religious conservatives are concerned, things are getting curiouser and curiouser. Take the charge hurled by gay activists that the Bush administration is irredeemably “anti-gay,” and compare it with accusations by religious conservatives that the administration has been "pandering to the homosexual lobby," and it can leave you feeling like you’ve taken a tumble through Alice's mirror. It’s verdict first, trial later, and let’s all enjoy the tea party as long as we’re sure to only talk amongst ourselves.
How distorted can the views of both camps be? Let’s start with the “progressive” gay activists for whom no Republican, including (or especially) the gay GOPers of the Log Cabin Republicans and the Republican Unity Coalition, can do right. “Gay-negative” actions by the Bush administration are said by these activists to be so wide ranging as to include the faith-based initiatives, which are “a threat to gay people” according to the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force. The NGLTF also views welfare reform reauthorization as anti-gay, since “the Republican bill provides funds for ‘healthy marriage promotion activities’ and ‘fatherhood programs.’ … We need a bill that is sensitive to the needs of GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender] people.”
Here's a typical view from the gay left:
The Bush administration and some Republican members of Congress are signaling that they will advance legislation which could override existing state and local laws that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“It’s exactly what we’ve been afraid of,” said Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). “The Bush administration now thinks it has carte blanche to run roughshod over the GLBT community and others.”
So is the Bush gang an anti-gay clique? Far from it, claim the religious conservatives, who have made clear their displeasure with the administration's openly gay appointees, including career-diplomat Michael Guest to serve as ambassador to Romania. The most impassioned infighting, however, started over the now-notorious remarks by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, which gay activists saw as revealing latent fascism in the GOP while religious conservatives viewed the president’s defense of Santorum as unacceptably tepid.
Santorum's comments supporting laws that criminalize adult, consensual homosexual relations and his analysis that if the Supreme Court overthrows such laws (a ruling is due any day now) there would be no legal basis for states to outlaw incest, bestiality, adultery, and polygamy provoked a firestorm of criticism from gay activists and liberals. Yet here's what White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer had to say, providing the official response:
"The president has confidence in Senator Santorum, both as a senator and as a member of the Senate leadership."
Asked about the president's views on homosexuality, Fleischer said a person's sexuality is "not a matter that the president concerns himself with" and that he judges people on how they act as a whole. Bush subsequently praised Santorum as “an inclusive man,” without elaborating.
The dog that didn't bark here is any hint of support for Santorum's views favoring sodomy laws and his belief that consulting adults are not entitled to sexual privacy in their bedrooms. So it’s not surprising that religious conservatives were upset. In the words of the Family Research Council:
"Beyond a few tepid statements of personal support for Sen. Santorum, no prominent national GOP leader seems willing or able to mount a spirited, principled defense of marriage and family."
"The question naturally arises: Have Republican leaders been so intimidated by the smear tactics of the homosexual lobby and its Democratic attack dogs that they are cowering in silence?"
If Republican leaders cannot mount a vigorous defense of marriage, then pro-family voters perhaps should begin to reconsider their loyalty to the party.
On the heels of the Santorum blowup another brouhaha erupted when GOP National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot met with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay political lobby, and a subsequent meeting was held between lower-level administration officials and Log Cabin Republicans. Again, in the words of the Family Research Council:
Despite repeated assurances, both public and private, that the party has no intention of abandoning its commitment to the sanctity of marriage and the family, the White House and the GOP continue to court radical homosexual groups that agitate for policies that would destroy both of these indispensable social institutions. ... This incessant pandering to the homosexual lobby is deeply troubling.
Racicot later met with a group of social conservatives opposed to gay rights legislation, who were enraged over his earlier get-together. One high-level social conservative attendee, Paul Weyrich, posted a missive on the Free Congress Foundation's website under the title A Fatal Flirtation: The GOP and the Homosexual Movement, Wrote Weyrich:
In many different ways the group stressed that if the Republican Party drifts toward the homosexual agenda, it will alienate the millions in the religious right while gaining very few from the homosexual community. …
Chairman Racicot defended his meeting with the Human Rights Campaign by saying "I meet with anyone and everyone." Gary Bauer said that certainly was not true because surely he would not meet with the Ku Klux Klan. Rev. Wildmon asked if he would meet with NAMBLA (The North American Man Boy Love Association). The chairman was not familiar with this group, which advocates sex between men and young boys. The chairman said he would not meet with such an "aberrant" group. He was also asked about GLSEN, the group that is pushing pro-homosexual and pro-transgender education programs in the schools, including elementary schools. Again, the chairman professed ignorance.
This couldn't have been a fun meeting for Racicot, who has good relations with the Log Cabiners.
So why did he do it? For one thing, a recent Gallup poll suggests that a welcoming attitude toward gays can be a winning strategy since almost 9 out of 10 Americans agree that homosexuals should have equal rights in terms of job opportunities.
Also, exit polls showed 4% of voters in 2000 self-identified as gay or lesbian (and nearly 75% voted for the Democratic Gore-Lieberman ticket). Exit polling in congressional elections have showed a gay electorate of more than 5%. That's a larger demographic than the Jewish vote. Even shaving just a small slice away from Democrats could prove pivotal to cementing the GOP's status as the majority party. Moreover, many independents are turned off by anti-gay rhetoric, negatively viewing it as a broader barometer of intolerance.
Yet the FRC spent a week recently using its website to expose the Bush administration's ties to the "homosexual agenda." One online installment was "Homosexual Lobby: Follow the Money" -- which, apparently, leads to Republican coffers. What better example of how the religious right's paranoia mirrors the gay left's dementia?
It remains to be seen if the White House can continue to reach out to gays, however tepidly, without making the religious right even angrier. In its ongoing balancing act, the administration has now taken at least one symbolic move to appease its Christian-right critics: the Department of Justice has decided not to allow DOJ Pride, an association of gay employees, to hold its annual June "pride month" event on Justice Department property. Last year Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson spoke briefly at the event -- outraging religious conservatives.
Not so widely reported is that during his 2001 confirmation hearings, Attorney General John Ashcroft told the Senate Judiciary Committee he would allow DOJ Pride to use the agency's facilities on the same basis as its other employee groups. This followed nominee Ashcroft's meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans, who -- to the chagrin of gay Democrats, then supported Ashcroft's confirmation.
But politics is more about who can deliver the most for you today than it is about honoring promises. And GOP administrations will only make real gestures of inclusion toward gays and lesbians when more gays and lesbians support Republicans -- and thus are able as a bloc to counter the threats of religious right activists to tell their brethren to stay home on election day. On the other hand, more gays and lesbians will support the GOP only when the party stops being so clearly identified with its religious right constituency’s hostility toward gays-- an unfortunate paradox.
Clearly, the GOP is not going to win over the hearts and minds of gay leftists, but that’s not who they’re aiming to attract. Rather, it’s the growing constituency of gay (and gay-friendly) moderates, conservatives and libertarians who favor lower taxes, economic growth, a strong military, safe streets, and limited government interference in their private lives. Can religious conservatives learn to live with that?
In the meantime, the Bush administration’s balancing act goes on, to the chagrin of gay activists and their opposites in the religious right -- both sides convinced the President has sold his soul to the other. Curiouser and curiouser, indeed!