Rusted Steele

New GOP chairman Michael Steele was supposed to be a breath of fresh air, especially on gay issues. Instead, he's been a disappointment.

BY James Kirchick

March 09 2009 11:00 PM ET

Never mind the callous
way in which he treated the issue -- certainly, the mere
question

of whether or not committed gay couples should continue to be
legally discriminated against deserves a more measured response
than an inquiry into whether the person posing it should have
his head examined -- Steele's reply was firmly out of step with
the American electorate. A succession of recently conducted
polls have found that over 60% of Americans support either
civil unions or full marriage rights for gay couples. (Even
George W. Bush, who led the effort to pass the Federal Marriage
Amendment in 2004,
came out in support

of civil unions in 2004 and expressed disagreement with the GOP
platform.) Most analysts of social trends agree that this
figure will increase significantly over time as older Americans
with more conservative views on homosexuality die, while
younger and more tolerant Americans begin voting in higher
proportions, and general attitudes on homosexuality liberalize
across the board.

So it is not the
conservatives urging their movement to moderate itself on the
defining civil rights issue of the day who are "crazy." Put
aside the debate about the desirability of gay marriage;
antigay politics will soon become
anachronistic

and a surefire electoral loser. Some, like the reform-minded
former Bush speechwriter David Frum, have realized this fact
and

called

for a softer approach to social issues, particularly gay
marriage (full disclosure: I'm a contributor to Frum's website,


NewMajority.com

). But those conservatives willing to question their party's
position on gay rights have been viciously attacked, and
there's little indication that their views are influencing a
critical mass of the Republican Party leadership.

Last November,
according to exit polling, 27% of self-identified gay voters
chose

McCain over Obama (the actual number of gays who voted GOP was
probably far higher, given that many presumably did not out
themselves to pollsters). In a dismal year for Republicans,
gays were the only group whose support for the Republican
nominee rose from its 2004 level. There was good reason for
this increase considering the fact that McCain courageously
opposed the FMA, was the first Republican presidential nominee
to grant an interview with a gay news outlet, and seemed more
amenable than his predecessors on other gay issues. Yet in
exchange for this support, gays now see a Republican Party
chairman who, while promising a bigger tent, has just shrunk
it. The decline of the GOP as a national party continues
apace.

Tags: Politics

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