Sunday, December 17, 2006

# Posted 8:33 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE CHEERS FOR MARY CHENEY: Can a principled advocate of gay rights be Republican? That is the question I asked myself while reading Andrew Sullivan's cover story [subscription required] in the current issue of The New Republic.

That is the question I asked myself because it is often the first question I get asked by old liberal friends who are puzzled by my departure from the Democratic Party. For a lot of my demographic counterparts (young, upper middle class, Ivy-or-equivalent professionals), gay rights is a defining issue that makes it impossible to be Republican.

To a certain extent, I felt that way myself just six or seven years ago. In the summer of 2000, I found myself driving up I-35 in central Texas, trying to persuade a good friend of mine (and native Texan) to vote for Al Gore and against George Bush in the upcoming election. When he asked why, gay rights was one of the first issues I mentioned, along with the environment.

Why is gay rights such a defining issue for so many liberals? The short answer is moral clarity. I would argue that the struggle to overcome official discrimination against minorities is the ethical autobiography of American liberalism. It is the narrative that explains, more than any other, the purpose of liberalism, past, present and future. The issue of gay rights fits perfectly into that narrative.

Is the question of gay rights different from the question of civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s? Yes, and in a substantial manner. Around a week ago, I was watching Mind of Mencia on Comedy Central. In one segment, the show's host, Carlos Mencia, took a camera to West Hollywood in order to ask local gay residents whether the struggle for gay rights is the civil rights of movement. Generally, they said yes. In response, Mencia would ask things like "So have the police attacked you with guard dogs and fire hoses?" or "Do you they give you trouble when you try to vote?"

(NB: If any of you still have that episode on your DVRs, I would appreciate a fact-check on my recollections.)

Regardless of whether the struggle for gay rights has the moral and political significance of the struggle against Jim Crow, I still think it is important for any Republican who supports those rights to ask about the ethical implications of belonging to a party that tends to oppose them rather strenuously. No one ever agrees with their own party 100%, but since this is an issue that concerns discrimination, the moral stakes are higher.

Which brings us back to Andrew Sullivan's cover story. As Sullivan tells it, Mary Cheney's pregnancy is the pivotal event that will bring GOP homophobia crashing down upon itself. Why? Becuase conservative intellectuals:
Kn[o]w that, if gayness were accepted as involuntary, then the debate would eventually collapse on them and become an indisputable matter of civil rights.
For Sullivan, Cheney is the nail in the coffin of the argument that being gay is voluntary:
Her very existence is an inconvenient truth. Usually, the architects of ideology can distance themselves from reality deftly enough to avoid embarrassment. But not this time. Cheney is the very visible daughter of arguably the most powerful Republican vice president in U.S. history.
I'm not sure the logic follows between Cheney being gay and homosexuality being involuntary, but from the vantage point of political discourse, Cheney's sexual orientation may have the impact Sullivan is hoping for. Undoubtedly, it has forced Cheney's father to break with the party line on gay marriage and avoid any substantive criticism of homosexuality. The President supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage, but he doesn't criticize homosexuality per se.

If leading conservatives can't argue that there is something instrinsically wrong with homosexuality, it will become harder and harder to deny homosexuals any right given to other Americans. Yet in spite of his firm belief that victory is on the horizon, Sullivan has some very harsh words for conservative pundits who refuse to get as emotional about gay rights as he does.

For example, Sullivan calls Jonah Goldberg a "nimble enabler of anti-gay discrimination" even though Goldberg has nothing against gays and supports civil unions. What Sullivans condemns is the decision of Goldberg and numerous other Republicans to maintain a "strategic silence" with regard to gay rights rather than rushing to the barricades. What's wrong with silence? Sullivan writes that:
On Mary Cheney, [conservatives] are forced to take a stand. But any stand either attacks the base of the party or attacks someone they know and love. So they have no alternative but to stand very still, say nothing, and hope that someone changes the subject. It is as close to intellectual and moral bankruptcy as one can imagine.
In other words, pro-gay rights Republicans have an obligation to take on the party majority. As Dr. King said, "We will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

So on any issue of principle, is it beyond the pale to maintain a strategic silence? Coincidentally, the editors of The New Republic provide an accidental answer to this question in the same issue as Sullivan's cover story. In their editorial praising Nancy Pelosi's decision to rein in her party's ideologues, the editors observe that:
Much as we would like to see the odious "don't ask, don't tell" policy [for gays in the military] retired, it probably makes sense to fight other battles first.
So are the editors of TNR no less guilty than conservative pundits of abandoning a friend in need? Or is it permissible to make a subjective judgment that other issues are more imporant?

I incline toward the latter position. But a subjective judgment still has to be a defensible one. I'm not a relativist one this point, willing to respect all judgments. Rather, I believe that the cause of gay rights has a momentum of its own. As Sullivan himself observes, the facts on the ground point toward equality before the law as inevitable.
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

Being a long-time Republican I have only a few issues on the gay agenda. None whatever on state law based packages, some stronger ones about adjusting biology to fit desire -- particularly because I see matrimony as derived from real biologic vulnerability with pregnancy and mothering -- and strong issues with the Romer case. I admire Ward Connerley and would like equal, not special, treatment. I also have no use for the sneering condescension of elites for the essentially unobtrusive positions of many faith-based believers.
So where are the Democrats who are speaking up in favor of gay marriage? There are plenty of liberal activists and bloggers who are doing this, but few Democratic officials are brave enough to stand up for what everyone thinks they believe in. If we're criticizing people for maintaining a strategic silence, Democratic politicians should be the first group the gay rights movement should go after.
TNR punting on the issue of gays in the military is a distinctly different strategic decision than Goldberg's silence. The first is part of legislative priorities (what bills can you get passed before you run for election again), the second, part of some ill-defined "civil rights" priority. Of gay marriage, Goldberg says, "I don’t think it’s the signature civil rights issue of our day." That's fine, but what is the signature issue? Why not push civil unions as a way to keep the substantive (and morally salient) features, while not trying to incite a cultural war, especially considering that Goldberg supports unions?
Goldberg's reticence comes from the usual difficulty of angering one's political base while (narrowly) agreeing with one's opponents. It's tough, and that's why "silence" seems the preferable solution to him. The problem comes from the fact that, like it or not, people like Sullivan are right to point out that if you're for family values and traditional instiutions, you're going to want gays to marry (or at least allow them the same rigths that hetero couples have). And that's going to require speaking up and debating the misguided positions of conservative fellow-travellers.
I'm an African American gay Republican. Your post had some good points, but I'm afraid that it is based on some assumptions that all Republicans are silent in the face of extreme discrimnation. I've been part of Log Cabin Republicans for several years and we have not shied away from publicy criticizing party leaders for supporting anti-gay policies. We didn't endorse President Bush in 2004 because of his stance on the federal gay marriage ban. Here in Minnesota, where I've been president for two years, we didn't endorse Governor Tim Pawlenty for the same reason.

I am not pleased with how the GOP views gays. So, I'm working to change that. I stay in the party because of the original values it onced believed in and because I want to bring the party to be more tolerant of gay and lesbian Americans.

To use the civil rights analogy, we must remember that the Democratic Party was not always the party of civil rights. It's view on rights for African Americans was split between northerners who supported civil rights and southerners who didn't. It wasn't until Hubert Humphery stood up and made his historic speech in 1948 did the Dems start to become stronger on civil rights. No one would have said back in 1964 as the Mississippi Freedom Democrats stood up to the segregationists who came to the Democratic National Convention that their desire to be seated as silly because many in the Democratic party didn't support civil rights. They were looking to change society and they did. I believe that those of us who are gay Republicans are doing the same thing; we want to beat back the forces of intolerance and give them no place to exert party.

There are many straight and gay Republicans that have stood up to intolerance that never really gets reported. You can look at a list at http://online.logcabin.org/talking_points/gop-heroes/recognizing-republican-heroes.html.

We must stop thinking that all Republicans who believe in gay rights are cowering in fear of the far right. There are many who are taking stand and they should be recognized, not ignored.
Great comment, Dennis. Glad you found time to visit OxBlog. I certainly didn't mean to downplay the significance of Log Cabin and other gay Republicans.

In fact, Sullivan comes pretty close to saying that Mary Cheney herself is responsible for the artfully subtle way in which her personal life and public role have forced the GOP to reconsider its position on gay rights.

As her example demonstrates, prominent gays and lesbians within the party may have far greater impact on the national debate than gays and lesbians who enter the safer and more comfortable Democratic fold.
I agree with Dennis too. Sullivan's position is predicated on a mistatement of the situation.

First, gays are more than just gay. They are people in every sense of the word and have many interests beyond their status as gays. Throw in with that the fact that the Democrats are not much better on many gay issues and you see that they have no good choice. Except patience--time will see most rights issues fulfilled.

Further, the best way to make your voice heard is to put your vote in play. The best way to get ignored is to guarantee your vote to one party or the other. I believe gays can accelerate the approach of equal rights not by abandoning the Republican party and throwing in their lot with the Democrats as many other interest groups do, but by doing the opposite and making the parties work for their vote.
Can a principled advocate of gay rights be Republican?
Is that a trick question? Is the answer, "No, because Republicans aren't principled?"

"Do they give you trouble when you try to vote?"
uh...let's see, if we compare roughly the *same periods* in history, then we have (a) gay practitioners could indeed be imprisoned (not just harassed) for their illegal love and (b) the government of Britain, for instance, forcing its shining war-hero Turing to undergo forced hormone theraphy, yes?

So on any issue of principle, is it beyond the pale to maintain a strategic silence?
For the purposes of expediency? Yes, it has been and will always be so, I should think, no matter what party.

I [DS] stay in the party because of the original values it onced believed in and because I want to bring the party to be more tolerant of gay and lesbian Americans.
Sorry, DS, that is really, really thin. What once-upon-a-time 'values'? One can understand others making prioritizations, but just how do you comparmentalize what is probably, for most people, a central expression of their being (i.e. either sexuality, expressed one way or another)?

I [TMcG] believe gays can accelerate the approach of equal rights not by abandoning the Republican party and throwing in their lot with the Democrats as many other interest groups do, but by doing the opposite and making the parties work for their vote.
o.k., sounds reasonable, BUT..show me the electoral math behind that calculation. I'll start: 20 million evangelical voters, who want to position themselves as 'swing' voters, too. Your turn.

As her example demonstrates, prominent gays and lesbians within the party may have far greater impact
Where are these other prominent gays and lesbians within the party? Did you mean wealthy gays and lesbians within the party?

Throw in with that the fact that the Democrats are not much better on many gay issues ....
The Democrtas are no Saints, but surely the faults of both parties are not eqaul.

Evidence, for those who seek it, is all around.

Clinton used the Presidency, albeit in his last years, to recognize gay pride day. Bush cordoned off and refused any official acknowlegement of gay families who came to the White House's Easter bash.

Until the GOP come up with some kind of Nixionian "southern strategy" for the gay populace, which is entirely unlikely because of the weak voting power of such a decided minority, then those who seek change from within are self-deluded, most likely, casting themselves at windmills.
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