Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush’s 2004 election campaign manager and a former Republican Party Chairman, has just revealed he is gay, according to Newsweek and a variety of other media outlets. His disclosure has angered some gay and lesbian same-sex marriage activists, upset by his tacit support and silence during the “values” political drive of 2004, when Republican strategists like Karl Rove pushed same-sex marriage bans across 13 states that year, as USA Today reported. Others are hailing his recent self-outing as being potentially helpful to the efforts to end Proposition 8 and the court case being driven, in part, by conservative former Solicitor General Ted Olson.
Same-sex marriage and homosexuality are concepts that have seen a major sea change in acceptance over the past five years, as a recent CNN poll showed (seen on the New York Times). The poll indicates 17 states now have over 50 percent acceptance rates for gay marriage, compared to none in 2004. Overall, acceptance has risen nationally to a slim majority. Additionally, those numbers are expected to grow as a majority of Americans under the age of 30 support gay marriage, as opposed to older Americans. Oregon banned gay marriage in 2004, but now has a majority of citizens who support it. Michigan, Montana, and Ohio still don’t have majority support, but, at 45 percent and over for those three states, the trend is moving toward a majority soon.
As the issue remains on the front burner with the Prop. 8 decision heading toward appeals and, possibly, the Supreme Court, the Republican Party is challenged by the need to court traditional-values supporters yet still capture the younger generation of conservative voters, voters whose core concerns may be more in tune with fiscal concerns than with social issues. Staying in the Republican Party may mean tough choices lie ahead for public figures like Mehlman, who have made their reputations during times of strong opposition to gay marriage.
But Republicans aren’t alone in having conflicting stances. President Barack Obama has come under fire for his increasingly at-odds stance on gay marriage, being both for it in theory but against it in practice.
As Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry told Politico, “When President Bill Clinton – the president who signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law – has now called for overturning it, and supports freedom to marry, joined by people like Cindy McCain and Laura Bush, President Obama needs to get on the right side of this cause of justice”
Republicans who demonstrate what can be viewed as hypocrisy on gay rights issues are widely ridiculed after they are forced out of the closet, as happened to California State Senator Roy Ashburn. The staunchly anti-gay rights legislator was arrested for alleged drunk driving, with a male passenger in the car who he’d picked up from a gay bar. That’s not the way to come out, obviously, any more than former Sen. Craig’s alleged outing. Mehlman may have a checkered past as far as the gay rights movement is concerned, but it sounds as though he’d like to be a help now. That could bode well for his reputation in the future.