Gay Marriage In New York: Progressive Victory or GOP Roadmap?
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Many people are celebrating what seems on the surface a huge win for gay rights, with the passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York State last week, by a Republican-controlled state senate to boot. This marks a real sea change for LGBT equality in the US, and therefore a major win not only for LGBT people, but also because this has been a major cause for progressives.
But now that the pride parade is literally over, progressives should be asking themselves about the potential long-term impacts of this "win."
What does it mean when so-called progressives celebrate a victory in large part won by GOP-supporting hedge fund managers, Tea Party funders and corporate conglomerates—the oft-spoken enemies of progressive causes? Furthermore, this new strategy could be the testing ground for Republicans to peel a gay base and donors away from the Democrats while keeping their Christian conservative base.
It sounds far-fetched, but let's consider why this may be an unforeseen challenge.
The New York Times reported in May that a few Republican fundraisers were helping to raise over $1 million to protect the seats of a handful of Republican lawmakers who could be swayed to vote for the marriage equality bill Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo had called for, already approved by the Democratic Assembly.
These men all had their own personal reasons for pushing the bill—some said they have gay family members who deserve the protections that marriage offers. But is that alone worth the political risk? There may be a set of Republicans who know that using the “protecting the sanctity of marriage” excuse or other kinds of gay-baiting has lost much of its political power with the conservative base. It has also become clearer that the GOP is not monolithic on this issue, as many notables like former first lady Laura Bush, Cindy McCain and Dick Cheney have all come out in support of same-sex marriage in the last few years.
Daniel S. Loeb, a hedge fund manager who's raised money for GOP candidates and for same-sex marriage in New York told the New York Times in May “I think it is important in particular for Republicans to know this is a bipartisan issue...If they’re Republican, they will not be abandoned by the party for supporting this. On the contrary, I think they will find that there is a whole new world of people who will support them on an ongoing basis if they support this cause.”
The support to which Loeb may be referring could be the contested “independents,” who increasingly support LGBT friendly policies. The GOP leadership know that the future of their party depends on these people. But could Loeb also be talking about more LGBT people donating and voting Republican?
Comedians joke about the gay and Republican identities as oxymorons, but the reality is that there have been gay people, mostly white men, in positions of power for a long time. One would think that after the Republican Party used anti-marriage initiatives on local ballots in 2004 as a way to scare up votes in favor of George W. Bush's re-election in recent years, gay Republicans would be deserting the party in hordes. Instead, they've upped the ante. Rollcall.com reported in fall 2010 that Ken Mehlman, a former RNC chairman and G.W. Bush staffer who came out last year, had begun to host high-level fundraisers to raise money from the Republican high-donor base for marriage equality. If the Republican Party has gay members in its ranks who feel some guilt about their role in solidifying anti-gay legislation, they, like Mehlman, may certainly be using their political clout to redeem themselves and their legacy in history.