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Posts for October, 2012

Mehlman: Conservative case for marriage

Timothy Kincaid

October 13th, 2012

Considering that Ken Mehlman is perhaps best known for being George Bush’s campaign manager during his “ban gay marriage” reelection campaign, it’s a bit ironic hearing him now advocate for equality. Nevertheless, the message – in this case – is more important than the messenger. And this is a message that needs to be heard.

“Conservative” can mean adherence to a specific set of political positions. However, it also can also refer to a way of life, an approach to thinking and the manner in which one structures their personal affairs. While “conservative” (in this sense) may have a loose correlation with the political term, a far-left Democrat who has a wife and children, a college fund, and retirement savings invested for the long term is far more conservative than a Republican playboy who throws lavish parties and is invested only in risky schemes.

I suspect that because the terms are the same, many people (especially those who live in conservative areas) believe that while they cautiously plan and prepare and value tradition and family, those liberals out there in San Francisco are irresponsible and wife-swapping and are all divorced and their kids run free like animals. That may be an extreme, but I do think it likely that they genuinely believe that liberal people do not value marriage and family as much as they do.

Which raises an interesting disconnect. What do you do with the gay folk who are clamoring for the right to marry, raise kids, live in a white picket fence neighborhood, volunteer for the local boy scout troop, and march in the Halloween Parade? That’s so… conservative. Those aren’t “San Francisco values”. How can this be?

One answer, the one pushed by those who have an interest in dividing the nation and living off the discord, is that Teh Gheys are only trying to get into marriage – and other conservative institutions – to destroy it! They don’t really want to marry, they hate marriage (because it was designed by God) and they want to bring it to an end.

And if you live in that bubble and are looking for a way to make your conflicting impressions make sense, this is an appealing answer. And besides, it’s championed by people who claim that they are good conservatives, the same people who value tradition and family and morality and decency, so it must be true.

Which makes it all the more important that another answer be heard. And that it too be championed by people who are good conservatives. They don’t want to hear from the people who insist that there be no crèche at Christmas or those who think it’s better to live together before marriage or those who think that more taxes are the solution to an economy without jobs or the folks who insist that Palestinians have as valid a claim on Jerusalem as the Jews. They don’t trust their judgment and they aren’t going to agree with anything you say.

But a conservative – especially one they trust – well, they’ll maybe at least listen. So I love that Ken Mehlman starts his op-ed this way: (StarTribune)

What do Clint Eastwood, Dick Cheney, Ted Olson, and John Bolton have in common? All are strong, lifelong conservatives. Each has fought on behalf of smaller government. And all support the freedom of same-sex couples to marry.

You may think Eastwood a doddering fool, but they LOVED his speech about the empty chair. You may think Cheney a war-monger, they think he’s a defender of the nation. And John Bolton, well he’s that Fox News guy who stood up to the United Nations or something.

And Mehlman speaks their language.

But this amendment would put a one-size-fits-all government mandate on all private institutions, including our churches, by telling them that any marriage they choose to perform is null and void for the purposes of Minnesota.

As Republicans, we respect the individual and work to empower people to live as they see fit, with as little intrusion by the government as practical. This idea is grounded in an important Judeo-Christian value that we should all treat others as we would like to be treated.

The argument isn’t new. It’s not really that revolutionary. And to those who think conservative lives equals conservative politics, this is an appeal that allows them the ability to hear our appeal and to consider us as maybe, just possibly, a little bit, well, conservative.

This is the message that will eventually win them over. And let’s hope that Mehlman’s appeal will work with voters in Minnesota. (And some day later we can deal with the eventual outcome: the day that conservatives start ranting about how The Gays need to settle down and find a good man and get married and raise a family like decent people and lesbians do.)

Ken Mehlman: “I Apologize To Them And Tell Them I’m Sorry”

Jim Burroway

March 2nd, 2012

In a conversation with Salon’s Thomas Schaller, former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman apologized for the first time for the harm that was done to gays while campaign manager for President Bush in 2004. That was the race in marriage amendment propositions were placed on ballots in key states drive social conservatives to the polls. That campaign also saw aggressively anti-gay flyers being mailed out in West Virginia and other states which said that electing Sen. John Kerry president would result in gay marriages and a ban on the Bible.

In reflecting on his role in the Republican party’s use of anti-gay themes in 2004, Mehlman told Schaller:

“At a personal level, I wish I had spoken out against the effort,” he says. “As I’ve been involved in the fight for marriage equality, one of the things I’ve learned is how many people were harmed by the campaigns in which I was involved. I apologize to them and tell them I am sorry. While there have been recent victories, this could still be a long struggle in which there will be setbacks, and I’ll do my part to be helpful.”

When Mehlman came out in 2010, he acknowledged that if he had not been closeted while working in the 2004 and 2006 campaigns, he might have fought to keep the party from deploying an anti-gay agenda during those campaigns. Since then, he has worked actively in lobbying for marriage equality in New York and elsewhere, and he lobbied Republican U.S. Senators in the effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Welcome Out, Ken Mehlman

Jim Burroway

August 25th, 2010

In bringing to an end what was probably the worst-kept secret in politics, former GOP chairman Ken Mehlman has publicly confirmed that he is gay:

Mehlman arrived at this conclusion about his identity fairly recently, he said in an interview. He agreed to answer a reporter’s questions, he said, because, now in private life, he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage and anticipated that questions would be asked about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the group that supported the legal challenge to California’s ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.

“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” Mehlman said. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person. It’s something I wish I had done years ago.”

Obviously, this brings up a host of questions concerning Mehlman’s role in the President George Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign, as well as his role in some of the GOP’s anti-gay activities in 2006. According to The Atlantic’s Mark Ambinder:

Mehlman said at the time that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus. He was aware that Karl Rove, President Bush’s chief strategic adviser, had been working with Republicans to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.

Mehlman acknowledges that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.

“It’s a legitimate question and one I understand,” Mehlman said. “I can’t change the fact that I wasn’t in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally.” He asks of those who doubt his sincerity: “If they can’t offer support, at least offer understanding.”

“What I do regret, and think a lot about, is that one of the things I talked a lot about in politics was how I tried to expand the party into neighborhoods where the message wasn’t always heard. I didn’t do this in the gay community at all.”

He said that he “really wished” he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, “so I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]” and “reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans.”

Mehlman had been publicly outed by LGBT advocate Mike Rogers in 2004 and 2006, and he was one of the subjects of the documentary film Outrage, which discussed the phenomenon of closeted gay politicians who work against LGBT rights, and even LGBT dignity. Mehlman at the time refused to address questions surrounding his sexuality. He now admits that he mislead several people who had asked him directly.

Now that he is out, his goal is to become an advocate for gay rights within the Republican Party.

I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights.”

I think this is a good time for me to interject my own thoughts here. I definitely think that Mehlman should have come out earlier, and I fully believe that harsh criticisms of his tacit support for GOP gay-bashing during the 2004 and 2006 campaigns are fully warrented. I further believe that Mehlman has a lot of ground to cover in order to make up for his past sins.

But the first step in making up that ground comes in his coming out. Ambinder likens it this way:

The disclosure at this stage of Mehlman’s life strikes one close friend as being like a decision to jump off of a high diving board: Mehlman knows that there is plenty of water below, but it is still very scary to look down and make the leap.

I’m no longer religious, but this reminds me of a proverb in Luke, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Any time someone serves as a stumbling block to LGBT equality and dignity changes course, our best response would be to welcome the good news. Unfortunately, we’re not always up for our best responses. Mehlman does have a lot to make up for, but this first step is not insignificant.

And his second step isn’t small potatoes either. He is chairing a fundraiser for Americans for Equal Rights (AFER), the organization behind the lawsuit which has successfully challenged Prop 8 in Federal Court. That fundraiser has already needed $1 million for the effort. According to Andy Towle:

The fundraiser is co-chaired by prominent Republican donors Paul Singer and Peter Thiel and will be held at Singer’s home. A large number of other Republicans are co-hosts of the fundraiser including Mary Cheney, Margaret Hoover, John Podesta, and Steve Schmidt. Dick Gephardt is also among the hosts.

AFER board member and Academy Award winning filmwriter for Milk, Dustin Lance Black, described Mehlman as “an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights.”

Mehlman has a lot to make up for. The 2004 and 2006 campaigns that he was directly involved in — and in which he colluded or directed terrible vilificaiton directed toward fellow LGBT people — caused considerable damage to to his fellow Americans, and they will rightly demand accountability. In order to truly heal those wounds, that does need to be his next major step. 

But as we wait for that to come (and we shouldn’t have to wait too long for it) , let me say this: welcome out, Ken Mehlman. And let the rejoicing — and acts of contrition — begin.