So I thought it was pretty interesting when Mitt Romney hired Richard Grenell as a spokesman. I’ll admit it. Grenell, in spite of being a Republican who has also worked for such conservative luminairies as George W. Bush and Newt Gingrich, is openly gay, and to put such a person in a highly visible position in one’s Republican presidential campaign seemed... punchy.
Sure, Romney has espoused some pretty staunch anti-gay positions. Recently. Uh, very recently. During his tenure as governor of my adopted state of Massachusetts, Romney was a little fuzzier on the details, saying he opposed same sex marriage in any form (even the diplomatically phrased “civil unions”) while also pledging to “defend and expand” the rights of gay and lesbian constituents.
When same sex marriage finally passed in Massachusetts in 2004 -- the first state in the US to do so, and I am bound to note that we have not been consumed in flame, eaten by locusts, or otherwise biblically-upheaved since then -- Romney, classy dude that he is, went to the archives in a feeble attempt to stem the bleeding. There he discovered a 1913 law prohibiting couples from receiving marriage licenses in Massachusetts if they could not be legally married in their home state.
Of course, this only affected same-sex couples entering Massachusetts from elsewhere. Still, Romney demanded that clerks in town halls statewide enforce this law. If we’re gonna have married queers, they’re only going to be OUR queers, I guess was his logic.
The problem was the long-ignored 1913 law was originally passed to prevent interracial marriage.
That’s right: Mitt Romney invoked hundred-year-old racism to prop up modern-day homophobia. I told you he was a classy dude. (To Romney’s credit, he has historically supported the abolition of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and has defended domestic partnership benefits, so it’s true he has not always been a cavalierly anti-gay politician. But STILL.)
The 1913 law was officially repealed in 2008, after a whole lot of head-shaking and face-palming about the whole thing, which even then was perceived as Romney positioning himself for an eventual presidential run, and heaven knows you can’t run for president as a Republican without hating on the gays.
Nevertheless, it seems Romney has been secretly clinging to the idea that there is room for nuance in his relationship with gay Republicans, and his hiring Richard Grenell -- an outspoken supporter of same sex marriage, in spite of his conservative cred -- would support this possibility. Unfortunately, his party had other ideas, and owing to incredible pressure from left and right alike, Grenell has resigned, telling the Washington Post:
“While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign... I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”
I’ll cop to the fact that I’m not exactly pulling for Romney in 2012. But I find this development incredibly sad, because even though I disagree with much of what the Republican party stands for, it is grotesque that a few outspoken gatekeepers would work so hard to exclude people from their platform because of their private personal lives.
One such gatekeeper is American Family Association (when did “family” become a code word for narrowmindedness anyway?) radio host Bryan Fischer, who wasted no time in taking full credit for Grenell’s departure, calling it “a huge win for us in regard to Mitt Romney,” with “us” ostensibly standing in for “people filled with the warm fire of unrestrained hatred.” Hey, it’s great to be so excited about chasing someone out of their job with pitchforks and torches. That gives me hope for the human race.
Fischer’s gentle prodding of Grenell included the following:
Last week, Fischer slammed Romney's decision to appoint Grenell. Describing Grenell as "out, loud and proud homosexual," Fischer noted, "What gays want is...they don't want the rights, they want the title...they are not about commitment. Homosexuals are about short-lived relationships and frequent anonymous sexual encounters...that becomes a significant issue when we're talking about pointing someone to a post as sensitive as national security and foreign policy."
You read that right: frequent anonymous sexual encounters are a barrier to national security. Like, what if you have anonymous sex with someone in Iran and accidentally tell them the US nuclear missile launch codes in the throes of passion? What if your penis (or other genitalia, I guess your butt could do this too) actually transmits confidential foreign policy information through sexual contact? WHAT THEN?
It’s worth noting that gay folks do not have the monopoly on frequent anonymous sexual encounters, but I guess they’re the only ones with the magical foreign policy genitalia. At least in Bryan Fischer’s world.
Some Romney opponents are actually a bit relieved to see the back of Grenell on this issue (get it, "see the back of" him? oh never mind) as they feel it will prevent Romney from masking his true anti-gay face any longer. Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post, who actually broke the story, has suggested that Grenell was “hounded” out of the campaign because of his gayness, something the Romney camp has quickly denied.
The conventional wisdom, at least among liberals, is that Republicans who land on the GLBTQ spectrum must necessarily be self-hating gluttons for punishment. I think this is unfair. The Republican party is about more than oppressing women, queers, people of color, and anyone else not on top of the American privilege pile. Indeed, it doesn’t even have to be PARTLY about that.
But like Darth Vader, the Republican party serves an important purpose, which is to bring balance to American politics. I can live with the reality that the GOP is all shrivelly white old man under that shiny black helmet, if at their best, they counter Democratic enthusiasm, and vice versa.
The Republican party at its core is supposed to be in favor of states’ rights and smaller government, two ideologies I personally have beef with, but I would never argue that they are political positions that don’t deserve to exist, as neither of these positions is inherently about hating or condemning anyone for their personal lives. I think gay folks should be able to align themselves with conservatism, if they want. I mean, FREEDOM and all that.
Will this development ultimately cost Romney the support (and fundraising assistance!) of gay Republicans, as many are predicting? Time will tell. More than that, the bigger tragedy is that this is another instance in which a religion-fueled right-wing fixation with social correctness has cost us a chance to see the grey areas in which fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republicans must live -- and as it continues to cost them a recognized and friendly space in their own party.