Rationalizing Paul Ryan

The potential vice president has an ugly history with LGBT issues, but some say he’s young enough to change course.

BY Lucas Grindley

October 11 2012 4:00 AM ET

Though he’s only 42, GOP vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan has an anti-LGBT track record in Congress that could stand next to that of the late Jesse Helms, who served in the Senate into his 80s. Nevertheless, gay conservatives see reason to believe he isn’t as extreme as he appears.

Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president voted in 1999 to bar same-sex couples from adopting children in the District of Columbia. He twice voted in favor of the anti-equality Federal Marriage Amendment, in 2004 and 2006. The Wisconsin congressman also endorsed a successful 2006 amendment to his state’s constitution banning same-sex marriage.

And when advances in equality, supported by President Obama, were voted on in the House of Representatives, Ryan joined the opposition. He voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, though it still passed. He also voted against repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Ryan has since sided with attempts to ban same-sex weddings from military bases and tried making it illegal for chaplains to officiate.

Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper says social issues aren’t Ryan’s public priority. At his rallies, Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is more likely to be railing about the deficit than gay marriage.

Many Republicans, including Cooper, highlight one vote that stands out from the rest. In 2007, Ryan supported the proposed but ultimately unsuccessful Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have protected workers from being fired simply for being gay (although he balked at a transgender-inclusive version of the bill). Little in politics is simple to interpret, and critics complain that he sided with his party on a failed procedural maneuver intended to block the vote. But that’s normal in Congress, conservatives say.

Ryan explained his pro-gay vote to The Fiscal Times in 2010 by saying, “They didn’t roll out of bed one morning and choose to be gay. That’s who they are.”

On a personal level, Rep. Tammy Baldwin says of her fellow Wisconsinite, “I consider him a friend.” During Obama’s inauguration, Ryan’s wife, Janna, sat next to Rep. Barney Frank’s husband, Jim Ready, and took his photograph. The two disagree on policy, Frank says, but otherwise enjoy an “amiable” relationship.

When Obama took office, he opposed marriage equality. Then when he announced support for the cause, the president said his children helped his evolution along. Gay conservatives hope that as Ryan’s three kids grow up, so will he.

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