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Is Snowe’s Retirement a Blow to LGBT-Friendly Republicans?

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Friday Mar 2, 2012

Maine Sen. Olympia Snowe's announcement on Tuesday that she will not seek re-election after more than three decades on Capitol Hill certainly sent shockwaves across Washington, D.C. What does it exactly mean to LGBT-friendly Republicans?

Snowe is among the six Republicans in the U.S. Senate who voted for a bill that repealed the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers. She is also a co-sponsor of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act. The vast majority of her Republican colleagues were obviously unwilling to meet her in the middle on these issues.

"As I enter a new chapter, I see a vital need for the political center in order for our democracy to flourish and to find solutions that unite rather than divide us," she said in a statement that discussed her decision. "It is time for change in the way we govern, and I believe there are unique opportunities to build support for that change from outside the U.S. Senate."

The Republican Party certainly does not leave much room for moderation on LGBT issues. There are, however, obvious exceptions to this opposition from within the party both inside and outside the Beltway.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins described 'don't ask, don't tell' as a "stinky law that became more odious with every application" during the Log Cabin Republicans' national dinner in Washington, D.C., on the same day that it's repeal became official in September. Former Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly lobbied Maryland Republicans to support the marriage equality law that Gov. Martin O'Malley signed on Thursday, while former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman also sought GOP support for the legislation. He also spoke out against a bill that would repeal the Granite State's marriage equality law in an op-ed that the New Hampshire Union Leader published in January.

In New York, state Sen. Mark Grisanti is among the four Republican state senators who voted for a bill last June that allowed same-sex couples to marry in the Empire State-state Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward spoke in support of the issue at an LGBT lobby day in Albany a few weeks before New York lawmakers approved the bill and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders and Meghan and Cindy McCain have also backed marriage for same-sex couples.

Even newly out Pinal County, Ariz., Sheriff Paul Babeu has indicated his intention to speak out in support of LGBT rights from within the Republican Party.

Is it enough?

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) continues to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act at taxpayers' expense. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney continue to support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other current and former Republican presidential candidates continue to blast so-called judicial activism on the bench over last month's federal appeals court's decision that found California's voter-approved ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional and a San Francisco federal judge's ruling that DOMA subjected a lawyer with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals who had tried to obtain health insurance for her wife with undue discrimination

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, described Snowe's departure from the U.S. Senate as a "loss for the LGBT community." Her decision to leave Capitol Hill is not only a setback to LGBT-friendly Republicans, but for those who seek to moderate their party from within.

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


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