After years of public rumor and speculation about his sexuality, former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman has announced that he is gay. In an article published online earlier this week by The Atlantic, Mehlman told politics editor Marc Ambinder that he has only recently come to terms with his sexual orientation, and hopes to become an advocate for same-sex marriage.
Talk about a babyface turn. Goddamn.
Not everyone is cheering, as demonstrated by this article from Joe. My. God. entitled “Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag Asshat Closeted Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman Has Come Out.”
As Joe has spent the days since the announcement reminding us, Ken Mehlman has one of the most disgraceful records on gay equality issues imaginable. During his tenure as chairman, the Republican party made opposition to gay civil equality, specifically same-sex marriage, one of its defining issues. From 2004 to 2006, 21 states banned same-sex marriage. Anti-gay popular referenda were pushed by Mehlman and GOP strategist Karl Rove to incite homophobic “the fags are coming!” paranoia among the Republican base and ensure big voter turnout.
So. What to do. Mehlman claims he was actually a relatively pro-gay voice behind the scenes, working quietly to discourage Rove and others from going even further with their bigoted agenda. It’s easy to say that now, almost as easy as it would be to point out that he might have tried a little harder, all things considered. Should those of us on the side of gay equality just forgive and forget?
I don’t see any reason not to. I get why Joe and others are less than eager to welcome Mehlman to the fold with open arms. That’s only natural — again, his record to this point has been shameful. It would be a challenge to think of an influential Republican responsible for inscribing more anti-gay bigotry into state laws and constitutions than Mehlman. But how productive is this grudge-holding going to be in the long run.
Yes, where gay rights are concerned, bigger assholes than Ken Mehlman are hard to find. That was then, this (if the Monkees will pardon me for saying) is now. Mehlman says he’s seen the error of his ways and wants to help out. He deserves the chance, for the potential good he can do, if for no other reason.
Personally, I’m encouraged. Bona fide conservative Republicans like Ken Mehlman and Ted Olson standing up for same-sex marriage helps to demonstrate something I, and far better, louder voices than mine, have been saying for years: this should not be a right vs. left issue. Gay men and women are not aliens. They have not invaded this country seeking to remake it in their own fabulous image. They are our friends and our relatives and our neighbors. The gay rights movement, as the black civil rights movement before it, is inclusive across sexual, political, and religious boundaries. It includes gay, straight, black, white, yellow, brown, Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist.
The question of whether or not gay Americans will be afforded the same rights as their straight fellow countrymen — the right to marry the partner of their choice, the right to adopt children, the right to share health benefits, the right to openly and proudly serve in the armed forces — is not a political one. It is a moral question. And the only truly compelling reason to guarantee these rights to our gay fellow Americans is also a moral one: because it is the right thing — the only right thing — to do.
The continued denial of basic civil rights to gay Americans is an obscenity. All Americans — liberals, conservatives, and all those millions who don’t quite fit either of those categories — should be ashamed, and angry, and should work toward the day when bigotry of all kinds — sexual, ethnic, religious — is erased from the laws of the United States.
Ken, welcome to the fight.