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McCain Slyly
Refers to Gays in GOP Acceptance Speech

McCain Slyly
Refers to Gays in GOP Acceptance Speech

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For anyone still wondering, on the left or the right, where John McCain now stands on two of the most divisive social issues of our time -- abortion and gay rights -- the Arizona senator made his beliefs clear as he accepted the Republican Party's nomination for president Thursday night in St. Paul, Minnesota.

For anyone still wondering, on the left or the right, where John McCain now stands on two of the most divisive social issues of our time -- abortion and gay rights -- the Arizona senator made his beliefs clear as he accepted the Republican Party's nomination for president Thursday night in St. Paul, Minnesota. Before a hall of enthralled Republicans at the Xcel Energy Center here, he declared his support for a "culture of life" -- and judges "who dispense justice impartially and don't legislate from the bench." The latter reference, though coded in language about an "activist" judiciary, was an obvious swipe at same-sex marriage, in a year when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality (and when that state and two others, including McCain's home state, face ballot initiatives over the issue).

Pundits had speculated whether the Republican nominee would directly address the conservative base in his speech capping his party's 2008 convention, even though his running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin, had sufficiently energized evangelicals (and gun owners) in the heady days before. But his campaign clearly wagered that McCain needed to bolster his critics once more, and that he did, albeit it in a veiled way -- the better to not dissuade the swing voters who will determine this election two months from now.

The references came in a town-hall-style talk that was heavy on the former POW's biography, exploited all week long by convention speakers in an effort to prove that McCain, and not Democratic nominee Barack Obama, had the experience and resolve to lead America at a time of numerous geopolitical threats. And while McCain also emphasized his "maverick" reputation in taking on his own party during his career in Congress -- and his commitment to bipartisanship in getting things done there -- his jabs at supporters of abortion rights and gay rights showed that the man who once defiantly denounced religious "agents of intolerance" is no longer the independent thinker on the issues that social conservatives feel most strongly about.

Gays and lesbians watching the speech may have noted one other statement that could be interpreted as divisive: that education is "the civil-rights issue of this century." While McCain was specifically referring to the differing levels of "access" that white students and their black and Latino peers have to quality schools, members of the LGBT community would be forgiven for thinking that their struggle for equal rights was of paramount concern.

McCain's speech, complete with several diversions by protesters -- including a man two tiers above a media work section bearing a sign that said YOU CAN'T WIN AN OCCUPATION -- was an anomaly in a week that featured little outright criticism of gay marriage from convention speakers, in marked contrast to the Republicans' 2004 convention, when the Federal Marriage Amendment was frequently (and strategically) cited. Indeed, except for a remark by McCain's former rival Mike Huckabee about not changing "the very definition of marriage from what it has always meant throughout recorded human history," there was an utter lack of explicit rhetoric on gay issues -- contrary to the strong statements of support heard at the Democratic convention in Denver last week.

Sure, high-level McCain campaign staffers like national political director Mike DuHaime and senior strategist Steve Schmidt addressed the Log Cabin Republicans this week, but it was hard to square their outreach with the GOP's overall silence when it comes to LGBT people. McCain is known for gambles, but only Election Day will tell whether his and his party's strict avoidance of the same voters Obama's campaign is assiduously courting will pay off.

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