Despite Anti-Gay Messages, GOProud Thrilled with NH Debate Among GOP Contenders

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday June 15, 2011

The next presidential election is a year and a half away, and the campaign season is well underway. The latest sign was the June 13 New Hampshire Debate, aired on CNN, among seven Republican contenders for the GOP nod to run in 2012.

Predictably, most of the contenders in the debate expressed a desire to keep gay and lesbian patriots out of uniform and to prevent gay and lesbian families from being able to legally marry. Also predictable -- lamentably so, some would say -- was the support that the slate of contenders won after the debate from gay conservative group GOProud.

Among questions fielded by contenders Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum was a pointed inquiry from journalist John Distaso, who asked whether Bachmann -- who has said she supports states' rights -- whether she would, as president, seek to overturn marriage equality laws in the handful of states where they exist. New Hampshire is one the five states that currently allows gay and lesbian families to wed.

Bachmann's convoluted answer touched upon her own childhood as a daughter being raised by a single mother, and the fact that she and her husband had cared for 23 foster children, before boiling down to this: while she would not go into individual states to campaign for a change to their laws on the issue, Bachmann said, she would back an amendment to the United States Constitution banning marriage for any but heterosexual couples -- which amounts to the same thing, given that federal law supersedes state law, and state laws much also conform to the legal framework laid out by the Constitution.

Former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney answered moderator John King's subsequent question on the issue by saying that he was a Bush Republican as opposed to a Cheney Republican. The two terms meant, respectively, a Republican who backs writing anti-gay discrimination into the Constitution, as George W. Bush did, versus a member of the GOP who believes that all Americans, gays and lesbians included, should be left alone by the government to marry and establish a family with whom they please, as Bush's vice president, Dick Cheney -- himself the father of an open lesbian with a female life partner and a child -- famously argued both in 2004 and in 2009. (Anti-gay conservatives attacked Cheney for his view in 2009, though they held their tongues in 2004, when Bush and Cheney were running to hold on to their offices.)

Romney had started out his career in Massachusetts politics by promising to be a "friend" to gays, but by the time he occupied the Governor's Office, and his state was set to embrace marriage equality, Romney's tune on GLBT equality (along with other social questions, such as abortion) had flipped. Romney's attempts to derail marriage equality failed, and Massachusetts became the first state to allow legal same-sex marriages in May, 2004. Small wonder, then, that Romney said he, too, would back an anti-gay Constitutional amendment.

So did Tim Pawlenty, who tried to turn his answer into a polemic about the courts granting rights to GLBT Americans and their families. Santorum also noted that if there were an anti-gay amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the states would have a say in ratifying it. "We should have one law in the country with respect to marriage," Santorum declared.

Former Speaker of the House Gingrich, too, argued for a Constitutional amendment, rebuking the Obama administration for no longer defending the anti-gay federal law he helped write in 1996 (the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act") and essentially suggesting that once gays started to gain marriage rights, it had better be put to a halt through decisive federal action.

Herman Cain, who has never held political office, yet whose presidential star has been on a precipitous rise, answered that states should be allowed to decide for themselves who may marry whom. Cain is not "soft" on gays; he told a CBS interviewer recently that he believes being gay is "a choice," and, for that matter, "a sin."

For his part, Ron Paul demanded to know why the government had any hand at all in regulating -- or dispensing -- marriage. "I wouldn't support an amendment," said Paul.

Although five of the seven contenders essentially said that states should not be able to forge and maintain their own laws on marriage, gay conservative group GOProud praised the debate and its participants in general in a June 14 press release.

"The seven Presidential candidates on stage last night excelled at talking about the issues average Americans, and indeed average gay people, care most about," said the group's executive director, Jimmy LaSalvia.

"From the economy, to taxes, to retirement security, to healthcare, to the role of government, the Republican hopefuls offered a clear and compelling contrast to the failed policies of the Obama administration," LaSalvia added. "The truth is that President Obama's radically left-wing policies have been bad for gay Americans and, indeed, for all Americans.

"GOProud's number one mission between now and November of 2012 continues to be the defeat of Barack Obama," LaSalvia went on to say.

GOProud's chairman, Chris Barron, was quick to defend Herman Cain after Cain's remarks aired on June 8.

"Am I pleased with this answer?" wrote Barron at his site, Red Barron, on June 9. "No. Do I agree with Mr. Cain? No. I know being gay isn't a choice and I know it firsthand. I also do not believe that homosexuality is a sin. Does any of this change how I feel about Herman Cain? Not at all.

"The bottom line is that Herman Cain's personal position on whether being gay is a sin or a choice has no bearing on whether the policies he supports would be good for gay and lesbian Americans," added Barron.

The GOProud chairman went on to write, "Herman Cain supports repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a market based solution that would lower costs across the system, empower individuals and increase the gay people's access to insurance policies that offer domestic partner benefits."

Barron also defended Cain on the grounds of his views on Muslim extremism.

"Herman Cain hasn't been shy about speaking out about the need to confront and stop the spread of radical Islam -- a barbaric ideology that brutalizes women, religious minorities and gays," Barron wrote.

"For the gay left none of this will matter," added the GOProud leader. "All that matters is the group hug. For the gay left, it isn't important whether the policies pursued by a candidate or a party actually improve the lives of gay people, all that matters is that they get the pat on the head -- the assurance that they are ok.

"I don't need the group hug, nor do I need affirmation from the government that I am ok. What I need is a President and a Congress that will pursue policies that will make life better for me and my family," Barron stated.

In its release, GOProud did not address the impact on gay and lesbian families that a Constitutional amendment barring them from marriage parity would have.

Three of four CNN contributors and analysts expressed the view that while Gingrich acquitted himself well (an important observation, given how badly his political career has faded) and Romney made a good showing (despite the savaging that he took in the last election cycle over his ideological flip-flops), the night belonged to Michele Bachmann.

CNN political analyst Gloria Borger said that Bachmann "stepped out of Sarah Palin's shadow tonight. She was clearly one of the best-prepped candidates here."

David Gergen, a senior political analyst with CNN, said Bachmann "was the biggest surprise" of the debate. "She spoke in a much more cleaner sentences. She sprinkled interesting facts into it. And she introduced her biography. The 23 foster children, she said that twice."

"I think Michele Bachmann did incredibly well this debate," said Dana Loesch, a Tea Party figure and CNN contributor, "and I think that this was the first time that even people who are grassroots conservatives, people who are very familiar with her, who have been seeing her across the country at different events, this was the first time that they've been able to see her in this setting, actually going up against other people who are also trying to claim that same super-conservative mantel."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.