Mehlman Draws Fire, Praise

BY Kerry Eleveld

August 25 2010 10:45 PM ET

The tony, high-profile conservative fund-raiser may indeed mark a shift
in the political winds for marriage equality in much the same way the
Prop. 8 case has.

As Steve Elmendorf, a Washington Democratic
political operative, observed, “Ted Olson brought incredible credibility
to the legal case; Ken can bring incredible credibility to our
political case and send the message that being on the right side of this
issue is not going to cost you politically.”

Mehlman himself is
well aware that a number of LGBT people still harbor ill feelings toward
him for his role in targeting the gay community in order to whip up
conservative support for George W. Bush in '04. In Ohio, for instance,
the RNC sent out voter registration pamphlets attached to fliers
featuring an image of a bride and groom and the words “One Man One Woman
... One Vote Could Make a Difference in Making Sure It Stays That Way.”

Mehlman
readily admits that he has regrets about the strategy and that the
emphasis on the amendments made him uncomfortable at the time.

“I
understand that folks are angry, I don’t know that you can change the
past,” he said. “One thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn’t in
the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my
life, where I was able to be an advocate against that [strategy] and
able to be someone who argued against it. I can’t change that — it is
something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the
future.”

Despite Mehlman's past positions, Winnie Stachelberg, a
senior vice president at the progressive think tank the Center for
American Progress, said she was not necessarily surprised by the news
that Mehlman is gay and she welcomed him into the fold.

“It is
exactly what marriage equality advocates have been saying — it’s not a
Democratic or a Republican issue, it’s not a conservative or a liberal
issue,” she said. “It’s an issue of the freedom and equality that this
country was founded on.”

Stachelberg expected that many LGBT
activists might be bitter about Mehlman’s history, but said she hoped
people could move past that.

“What we ought to focus on is
ensuring that we have as many people as possible — whether they’re gay
or trans or straight — helping us achieve equality,” Stachelberg said.
“I think it adds significant fuel to the effort of securing marriage
equality for gays and lesbians.”















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