Deb Price

Yet Another Reason the GOP Failed

 As Republicans sift through the ashes of their latest defeat, the data shard that Democrats probably most hope their battered rivals ignore is this one:

Voters ages 18 to 29 -- who cast nearly one in five ballots -- favored Democrat Barack Obama over Republican John McCain by 66 percent to 32 percent.

In contrast, voters ages 65 and older -- about 16 percent of the 2008 vote -- favored McCain 53 percent to 45 percent, exit polls show.

Clearly, this old GOP elephant needs more than Botox and a hip replacement.

For proof that cosmetic changes won't be enough to get the worn-out old elephant back up, look no further than the fact that women -- 53 percent of all voters -- favored Obama by 56 percent to 43 percent, and Latinos, a rapidly growing voting bloc, backed him by 67 percent to 31 percent.

The GOP ended up with those dismal results despite offering its first female vice presidential nominee after, in 2006, its first Hispanic national party chair.

While establishment Republicans are soul-searching, they'd be wise to realize that, simultaneously, young voters are watching TV, where they see openly gay Rep. Barney Frank trying to save U.S. capitalism and openly gay Suze Orman explaining how early investing in 401ks will make them rich.

TiVo-generation voters, while fast-forwarding through commercials, could suggest what an appealing, youthful elephant would look like. That cuddly -- yes, cuddly -- party animal would appeal to young people's desire to enrich their hearts as well as their wallets, offering a combo deal of fiscal policies that raise all boats and "values" policies that address the needs of all families as well as single Americans.

To become that attractive elephant, Republicans will have to embrace gay people -- even if, in the short term, that costs them some social conservative votes.

That's what the Conservative Party did in Great Britain, turning itself from a big-time loser in 1997 to an ultramodern brand that's fast becoming a political head-turner.

British columnist Jonathan Freedland recently wrote in the New York Times that Conservative leader David Cameron "set about decontaminating the Tory brand. Central to that mission were forays into two areas of political terrain previously deemed forbidden zones," gay rights and environmentalism.

Conservative thinker Fred Barnes, reflecting on the Conservative makeover in the Weekly Standard in August, noted that Cameron's favorite word is "modern," and his big tent includes women, gays and Muslims. "(H)e publicly congratulated a member of his shadow Cabinet, Alan Duncan, on his civil union with his male partner," Barnes wrote.

McCain took some significant first steps by jettisoning gay-baiting in favor of outreach to gay voters. He was rewarded with the largest proportion of gay votes for a Republican presidential nominee -- 27 percent -- despite competing against the most gay-friendly Democratic nominee in history.

McCain laid a new GOP floor for the party's 2012 presidential wannabes. And if Obama, as he has promised, raises the national floor, such as by signing into law a ban on job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, GOP leaders can embrace that breakthrough and toss off the anti-gay albatross still around their necks.

America is a country of innovators and works best with competition, including for votes. So, Americans of all political stripes should look forward to celebrating a Grand New Party.



Gay Colorado Politician Heads Toward Election Milestone

In 2000, after being elected to the Colorado State Board of Education, Internet entrepreneur and philanthropist Jared Polis saw up-close the failure of public schools to meet the needs of new immigrant and homeless young people.

Tapping into the inventiveness that made him rich in the e-commerce world, Polis founded two charter schools for immigrant and homeless youth, and spearheaded the passage of a state constitutional amendment to prevent cuts to K-12 education.

But despite such successes in his 20s, Polis felt the high-stakes problems he most wanted to solve -- troubled public education, unaffordable health care and a threatened global environment -- couldn't be solved from his home in Boulder.

So, when local Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Udall decided to run for U.S. Senate, the openly gay Polis decided to run for Congress.

On Aug. 12, confirming a Denver Post headline -- "Being gay not hindering Polis' race" -- Polis won the primary. All three Democrats supported gay marriage.

"While I enjoyed worked on educational and environmental issues in the state, I really feel most of the issues we face are national in scope, and it's at the national level that we'll fail or succeed as a country," says Polis, 33.

Polis is expected to be elected in the solidly Democratic district in November. That would make him the first openly gay man to win a seat in Congress as a non-incumbent.

Rising star Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., broke the glass ceiling in 1998 because she was already out before winning her congressional seat. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is the only other out member of Congress right now and chairs the House Financial Services Committee.

Currently, there are 424 out lesbian, gay male, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) elected officials, according to the Victory Fund.

Other key races to watch:

Oregon: Bisexual Kate Brown, the Democratic leader in the state Senate, has a strong shot at winning secretary of state, the second-highest elected position in the state. She'd be the nation's first out LGBT secretary of state.

Texas: Lesbian Democrat Lupe Valdez is in a tough but winnable fight for re-election as sheriff of Dallas.

Michigan: Democrat Garnet Lewis, running for an open state House seat in the Midland-Saginaw area, is in a competitive race. "It feels like the stars are aligned," says the Central Michigan University administrator, who is focusing on education, the economy, energy and health care. Michigan is one of 20 states without an out gay state legislator.

But Polis' breakthrough would be especially sweet. After all, Colorado is home of the 1992 anti-gay Amendment 2 and Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, the lead advocate of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.

"It shows how far we've come that an openly gay candidate can win in a suburban district in Colorado," says Polis, who clasped the hand of his partner, Marlon Reis, in a touching moment on primary victory night that was captured in a photograph in The Denver Post.

"This election cycle has definitely put a few chinks in the glass ceiling. ... In our congressional district, we showed that sexual orientation is not seen by voters as a bar to public service."

Polis' advance underscores how far voters have come in looking beyond sexual orientation for candidates with innovative ideas.


Courts Support Rights of Gay Students

A high-school senior in Florida turned to a teacher's aide for help last September after younger students taunted her for being gay, saying "dykes" are "nasty," "gross" and "sick."

In doing the right thing, "Jane Doe" set off a shocking but ultimately inspiring chain of events in Panama City.

The resulting federal court ruling and a similar one also won by the American Civil Liberties Union are timely reminders that gay and gay-friendly kids have the right to express themselves and form clubs.

In Jane's case, the principal of Ponce de Leon High School called her in, told her it wasn't "right" to be gay and asked whether her parents knew her sexual orientation. Jane said no. The principal informed them, leading her father to threaten to kick her out.

Jane's school friends stuck up for her by doing such things as writing "Gay Pride" on themselves and wearing gay-friendly T-shirts.

Principal David Davis continued to behave outrageously -- hauling in 30 students, grilling them about their orientation, prohibiting them from displaying gay-friendly messages, and even "lift(ing) the shirts of female students to verify that no such writings were present on their bodies," according to court documents.

The principal suspended 11 students for belonging to an "illegal organization," apparently a reference to supporting Jane.

Understandably perplexed, a heterosexual student, Heather Gillman, whose lesbian cousin had been suspended, reached out to the school board. It backed up the principal, affirming bans on such slogans as "Equal, Not Special Rights," "Gay? Fine by Me" and "I Support My Gay Friends."

But federal Judge Richard Smoak, a Republican appointee, stood up for gay and gay-friendly students. In Gillman vs. School Board for Holmes County, he declared, "The robust exchange of political ideas is essential in a vibrant, progressive society and is precisely the type of speech that is sacrosanct under the First Amendment."

Meanwhile, after students at an Okeechobee, Fla., high school were told they couldn't form a gay-straight alliance because "sex-based" groups were banned, another Republican appointee, federal Judge K. Michael Moore, ruled gay and gay-friendly students may form a club, just like members of the Chess Club, Future Farmers of America and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

In 1984, Congress passed the Equal Access Act to require schools to treat all clubs the same, and judges have repeatedly ruled in favor of gay-straight clubs. But Okeechobee officials tried a new trick, citing the law's language about protecting the "well-being of students" to argue a gay-straight alliance would undermine abstinence-only education.

In his first-of-its-kind decision on July 29, Moore ruled in Yasmin Gonzalez vs. School Board of Okeechobee County that not only can the club meet, but also that a school board "is obligated to take into account the well-being of its non-heterosexual students."

These landmark court decisions send a strong signal cautioning school officials. And they're appropriately encouraging to gay students and wonderful allies like Heather Gillman, who'll be a senior this fall. Having taught her school board a lesson, she told me she'd like to start a gay-straight club.

"I really believe everyone is equal -- no matter what," she says.

That's the Gillman Rule: School officials everywhere should memorize it.


Congress Reconsiders Ban on Gays in the Military

On Sept. 11, 2001, Navy Capt. Joan Darrah's weekly intelligence briefing turned out to be anything but routine: She and her colleagues watched CNN's coverage of terrorist-hijacked planes ramming into the World Trade Center.

The meeting ended, the closeted lesbian captain left the Pentagon, and American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building. Seven people died in the place where she'd been only minutes earlier.

"The reality," Darrah told Congress on July 24, "is that if I had been killed, my partner then of 11 years would have been the last to know because I had not dared to list her name" as an emergency contact.

" ... That made me realize that 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was taking a much greater toll than I had ever admitted," she continued. "It caused me to refocus my priorities, and on 1 June, 2002, one year earlier than I had planned, I retired."

Darrah, who once served as deputy commander at the Naval Intelligence Command, testified at the first congressional hearing to consider lifting the 1993 ban on gays serving openly, so patriotic Americans like Darrah could serve without fear of being fired.

So far, 12,600 lesbians and gay men, including Arabic linguists, have been kicked out. Countless others didn't re-enlist or ever join.

The overdue House Armed Services subcommittee hearing spotlighted how Congress is changing. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Penn., shot down the idea that heterosexuals can't serve professionally alongside gays: "As a former Army officer, I can tell you that I think that is an insult ... "

Another veteran, Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., objected to arguments that open gays would undermine unit cohesion. "There are people in the military that think unit cohesion would be enhanced if our military reflected the opportunity and freedom that we believe is America."

The military's brass, unfortunately, declined to appear. Advocates of lifting Don't Ask included former Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier wounded in Iraq. Having lost a leg, Alva declared, "I had fought and nearly died to secure rights for others that I myself was not free to enjoy. I had proudly served a country that was not proud of me."

Retired Major Gen. Vance Coleman, an African-American heterosexual who first served in segregated units, said Don't Ask "hurts our military readiness. It undermines our commitment to being a nation where we are all equal ... And it ties the hands of commanders who want to welcome and retain America's best and brightest ... "

But Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, argued gays in the military create a "sexualized atmosphere" that erodes unit cohesion and morale. In the presence of amputee Alva and the highly decorated Darrah, those absurd claims sounded ridiculous.

Most Americans want to move beyond Don't Ask. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll shows 75 percent favor allowing "homosexuals who do publicly disclose their sexual orientation" to serve in the military.

That's up from 44 percent in May 1993 -- and includes 76 percent of independents, 64 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats.

The hearing was an important first step toward repealing an un-American law that hurts the military by perverting its values and pushing away talented Americans who want to serve our country.


Congress Learns About Transgender Bias

When David Schroer applied to be a specialist on terrorism at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, his stellar resume led to a job offer.

The highly decorated retired Army colonel had served 16 years in Special Forces, with 450 parachute jumps and combat experience in Panama and Haiti. Following 9-11, Schroer directed a classified 120-person Pentagon group involved in the war on terror.

But after telling his prospective boss over lunch that he was gender transitioning to Diane, Schroer recalls being told, "I was not a good fit for the library."

To transgender Americans, Diane Schroer's story is all too familiar. No federal law prohibits firing or not hiring someone who bravely decides to transition away from their birth gender.

But, in a historic first, Congress heard June 26th from Schroer and other transgender Americans about how honesty often leads to a lost career, homelessness and even suicide. "Hero to zero," Schroer aptly calls her experience.

It was a model civil rights hearing, much to the credit of Chairman Rob Andrews, D-N.J., who heads the employment subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Witnesses included gay Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin; four transgender people, including an aeronautics engineer; and a spokesman for Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co., one of more than 150 Fortune 500 companies with a non-discrimination policy on gender identity.

In addition, a lawyer specializing in discrimination litigation offered suggestions about legislative language that helps deter lawsuits. And lawyer Glen Lavy of the anti-gay Alliance Defense Fund argued employers who cite religious beliefs should be allowed to discriminate against a transgender person.

The hearing was an important first step in educating Congress about why Uncle Sam should guarantee transgender workers the right to be evaluated solely on ability.

Sabrina Taraboletti, who has two college-age kids, told of losing her job working on the space shuttle after announcing she was transitioning: "When I face discrimination, they face it, too. What happens to me because I am transgender also happens to them, not only because they love me, but because I still provide for them."

Why shouldn't there be a federal law?

Lawsuits? The retired colonel is suing now. In fact, having national guidelines with clear rules would help employers -- opening them up to a talented pool of workers while providing a roadmap for avoiding lawsuits.

Religious beliefs? Chairman Andrews left lawyer Lavy flustered after pushing him to explain whether his argument for religious immunity means white supremacists should be allowed to refuse to hire African Americans and pacifists should be able to refuse to hire military reservists.

Restrooms? There's no need to invent the wheel on this one. As transgender lawyer Shannon Minter pointed out, trans-affirming states and companies have found a simple rule works: Only after transitioning full-time to a new gender identity does the worker use the corresponding restroom.

"What we have seen, time and time again, is that any discomfort that co-workers may feel very quickly dissipates," Minter said.

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., eloquently summed up why America should protect transgender workers. Evoking Martin Luther King Jr., she declared: "Laws cannot change people's hearts. But they can restrain the heartless."


Gays Could Split Over McCain

Think you know Sen. John McCain?

That's what the nation's largest gay-rights organization is asking voters.

A maverick? An independent? A moderate?

Not so, the Human Rights Campaign argues forcefully in a new video at its Website that uses film clips capturing key moments in McCain's political career to back up its warning that a McCain presidency would mean "four more years of anti-gay policy in the White House."

As creepy music plays in the background, HRC ticks off such McCain-defining moments as his Senate votes against protecting gay workers from discrimination, against treating anti-gay attacks as hate crimes and against allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

HRC credits the Republican McCain for opposing efforts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay couples from marrying, but also shows a 2006 TV ad in which he urged his home state of Arizona to pass a state constitutional amendment to ban any recognition of gay couples. (Voters rejected that amendment as too extreme -- it would have even stripped benefits from heterosexual retirees signed up as domestic partners.)

"He actually sounds pretty familiar," the video concludes, displaying "good buddies" photos of McCain with President Bush, who campaigned in 2000 as respectful of gay Americans but later did a turnabout to curry favor with social conservatives.

The HRC's gamble means that if McCain wins, the non-partisan group will likely find itself in the same spot it's been in the past eight years: unwelcome at the White House.

It's a similar gamble to one taken during the GOP presidential primaries by the gay Log Cabin Republicans, which aired a clever TV ad in Iowa that used Mitt Romney's own words to portray him as a flip-flopper on abortion, Ronald Reagan and other conservative touchstones. If Romney had made it to the White House, Log Cabin surely wouldn't have been welcome.

Now, the HRC's high-stakes strategy hints at a developing split within the gay community over McCain. Although the Log Cabin hasn't decided whether to endorse McCain, he's signaling he wants to be viewed as a Big Tent Republican comfortable with gay people. Take, for example, his warm-and-fuzzy appearance on Ellen DeGeneres' popular daytime show. The two gently sparred over marriage. Or, take his recent campaign ad spoof on Saturday Night Live, where he objected to wasteful pork-barrel spending for a device to jam "gaydar."

McCain seems intent on coming across as likable to election-deciding independents, who tend to be gay friendly, polls show. Notice how he's been nearly silent about the upcoming gay marriages in California.

Still to come are two McCain decisions that I bet will prove pivotal to winning (or losing) Log Cabin's endorsement -- influential among gay Republicans and a badge of moderation helpful with swing voters.

First, McCain's choice of a running mate. Picking Romney or Mike Huckabee would likely mean Log Cabin would withhold its endorsement, as it did in 2004 over Bush's full-throated advocacy of an anti-gay constitutional amendment. And, second, whether McCain actively pushes for passage of anti-gay state constitutional amendments in Florida and California.

So, would gay Americans be welcome not just in a McCain Republican Party but in a McCain White House? Only McCain can prove HRC's forecast wrong.

Keep reading... Show less

The California Supreme Court Has Corrected a Monumental Injustice

When I took the eye exam for my driver's license as a teenager, I first tried without my glasses.

"Nice rows of blurry black lines, right?" I joked.

I slipped on my glasses. And presto, crisp, distinct letters appeared before my eyes. The letters, of course, had always been there -- I just couldn't recognize them.

When the California Supreme Court ruled May 15 that gay couples have the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals, it essentially said that one job of courts is to adjust the vision of people who simply haven't been able to see the injustice right in front of them.

Chief Justice Ronald George, a Republican appointee who wrote the 121-page majority opinion, said the nation's evolution in views and policies toward racial minorities and women teaches "that even the most familiar and generally accepted of social practices and traditions often mask an unfairness and inequality that frequently is not recognized or appreciated by those not directly harmed by those practices or traditions."

The 4-3 ruling -- the same split as in 1948, when California's top court became the first to strike down a ban on marriage between people of different races -- means gay couples can marry in California in about 30 days.

California follows Massachusetts, where more than 10,000 gay couples have married since 2004. But unlike in Massachusetts, gay couples from any state will be able to marry in California.

The breakthrough in the trendsetting Golden State -- home to one of every eight Americans -- is gigantic.

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who triggered the court case in 2003 by allowing his city to issue licenses to gay couples, joyfully put it after the ruling, "As California goes, so goes the nation!"

The landmark decision by the nation's most influential state court was immediately embraced by two California heavyweights: Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat with the power to block any federal marriage amendment.

All is not sunny in California, though. Voters will likely have to decide on a state amendment aimed at once again restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples.

But Schwarzenegger and Pelosi will help protect this advance, which Chief Justice George noted flows from recognition that the right to marry the person of one's choice is a "basic civil right (guaranteed) to all Californians."

So, his court isn't creating a new right. It's just saying the state mustn't block gay couples from exercising the right to marry -- just as it mustn't block interracial couples: "An individual's sexual orientation -- like a person's race or gender -- does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights."

Marriage is "central ... to an individual's opportunity to live a happy, meaningful and satisfying life as a full member of society," George wrote. Withholding access to it "works a real and appreciable harm upon same-sex couples and their children."

The court's ruling is a wonderful advance for all Americans, just as has been true of gains for religious minorities, racial minorities, women and the disabled. Equality is the defining value we share as Americans.


Courts Rule in Favor of Deception

When Michigan voters headed to the polls in 2004 to decide the fate of a proposed amendment to the state constitution, they'd been told the following by its lead proponent:

"(This) has nothing to do with taking benefits away. This is about marriage between a man and a woman," said Marlene Elwell, campaign director of Citizens for the Protection of Marriage.

CPM's Website declared the group's purpose was "for defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Period."

And its brochure told voters: "This is not about rights or benefits or how people choose to live their life."

That sales pitch -- assuring voters that the ballot initiative was solely about limiting marriage to heterosexual couples -- reflected where voters stood: A poll by Lake Snell Perry found 70 percent of likely Michigan voters opposed banning domestic partnerships and civil unions, and two-thirds opposed banning public universities and cities from offering partner benefits.

However, Proposal 2 also included language about not recognizing a "similar union for any purpose." After getting it passed, CPM turned around and argued the "marriage" amendment bans public employers from offering partner health benefits.

Sneaky? Yep. Deceptive? Yep.

And yet the Michigan Supreme Court outrageously ruled the amendment does bar such health benefits.

Two justices dissented from that May 7 ruling, saying the five-justice majority read too much into the amendment. The dissenters, citing CPM's bait-and-switch tactics, issued a warning that should be heard nationwide: "(T)he majority condones and even encourages the use of misleading tactics in ballot campaigns. ... (I)n the future, organizations may be encouraged to use lies and deception to win over voters or the court. This should be a discomforting thought for us all."


Since the anti-gay industry started trying to whip up folks about the supposed dangers posed by gay folks like me -- I'm blessed to be in a 23-year relationship with a woman I married the first chance I got in Canada in 2003 -- seven states have added marriage-only bans to their constitutions and 19 others have passed "marriage-plus" wording.

More fights are ahead: Florida votes this fall on a "marriage-plus" amendment. California voters likely will be asked whether to ban gay marriage. And Oregon voters may be asked whether to get rid of the new domestic partnership law.

Fortunately, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is working with public employers to creatively redesign benefit programs so gay couples and their kids don't lose health insurance.

But the threats posed by this ruling remain very real: Even before the top court handed down that decision, a Michigan judge cited Proposal 2 in telling a lesbian in a custody fight over three children she legally adopted in Illinois with her ex-partner that she has no enforceable parenting rights in the state.

The Michigan Supreme Court's ruling is a damaging blow to the economically shaky state, not just gay couples.

Already, Lambda Legal, which recently created a "Safety Scale" of states as guidance for convention planners as well as gay couples planning to travel or relocate, put Michigan, once a leader on gay rights, in the worst class.

For those of us who care about Michigan, the damage this court ruling does to the state's reputation is, to put it mildly, discomforting.


Courageous Gay Bishop Weathers Storm

Ironically, we can feel the most spiritually alive when we're being battered by life's fiercest storms.

For Gene Robinson, such storms have struck twice: first, when he could no longer deny his homosexuality and divorced his beloved wife; and second, now, as the Anglican Communion battles over the place of gay people, a struggle that intensified in 2003, when he was consecrated as the nation's first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

In the inspiring In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, the New Hampshire bishop tells what he's learned about himself as a gay Christian and the role he feels called to play in the world's third-largest Christian denomination.

"I am hopelessly in love with the church. It feeds and sustains me," he told me. "I am committed to helping change it from the inside, holding my head up high."

Robinson believes an engaged God -- not a God "who dusted his hands off and walked away into the sunset" -- is challenging the church to embrace those of us who're gay, just as it was challenged over earlier injustices.

He points to what Jesus told his disciples on the night before his death: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13).

Robinson believes, "We are literally seeing that (promise fulfilled) now.

"The changes we've seen in our understanding of the Scripture over the 19 centuries since it was written have happened through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. ... Things that seemed simply 'the way of the world' -- like slavery, polygamy and the lower status of women -- in retrospect seem like examples of humankind's flawed, limited and mistaken understanding of God's will. Our ability to better understand God's will has improved with time, prayer and reflection," he adds.

Robinson's book is being released as he prepares to step back into the spotlight: In June, he and his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew, will be joined in a New Hampshire civil union, followed by a blessing at their church.

In July, despite not being invited to the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of bishops in England, Robinson will go in an unofficial capacity to give wary bishops "a chance to sit with a self-affirming gay person of faith," he says.

The two events, he says, are linked: He wants to ensure his partner has legal rights under the civil union law because "it's potentially dangerous" for Robinson to attend the conference. (He wore a bulletproof vest at his 2003 consecration.)

Because religion is often entwined with anti-gay attitudes, he believes "it's going to take religious people to undo that thinking and believing."

Gay-friendly allies aren't enough. Robinson urges gay people who've left their church, synagogue or mosque to return, come out and walk into the storm: "Instead of giving up on our religious communities, let's think about taking the risks and bearing the burdens of transforming them."

Bishop Robinson's courageous life demonstrates the spiritual rewards of refusing to run for cover if your conscience tells you that you mustn't flee the storm.


Schwarzenegger Backs Gay Rights

My nominee for Best Ex-Actor in a Very Supportive Role: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In a few simple sentences, the muscular Republican governor of California did some heroically heavy lifting for all Americans who believe in equal marriage rights for those of us who're gay.

Asked at the gay Log Cabin Republicans' recent national convention whether he would join them in opposing a proposed California ballot initiative that would prohibit gay couples there from achieving marriage equality, Schwarzenegger began, "First of all, I think that (such a ban) would never happen in California because I think California people are much further along on that issue."

Then, as every heart in the room skipped a beat, he delivered some of the most important lines of his career: "And, No. 2, I will always be there to fight against that -- because it should never happen."

The audience leapt to its feet and gave the governor of the nation's most influential state a standing ovation.

Schwarzenegger's Golden State is approaching a historic crossroads: California's Supreme Court, which has a tradition of gay-friendly rulings, will rule on marriage by early June.

If the court sides with fairness, it could immediately open marriage to gay couples or encourage the legislature to do so. Lawmakers have twice passed such legislation, vetoed by Schwarzenegger, who wants the court to weigh in. (He has signed more than 20 gay-rights bills.)

If gigantic, trendsetting California leaps ahead, becoming the second state (after Massachusetts) to allow gay marriage, foes will try to roll back that advance. Even if the court hands down a disappointment, the anti-marriage initiative will likely go to voters this fall.

That's why it's tremendously important that the popular governor is saying you don't have to be a liberal or a Democrat or a young person to oppose taking California backward.

And Californians aren't the only ones who should listen. So should soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee John McCain, his pal.

If California's court rules in gay couples' favor, McCain will stand at his own crossroads: Will he react by choosing the tired old divisive path taken by recent Republican presidential nominees? Or, will he wisely try to make the Republican Party more appealing to moderates ready to move forward by modeling himself after the Ronald Reagan of 30 years ago?

McCain unsuccessfully lobbied for an anti-gay amendment to Arizona's Constitution. Yet he opposes amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage unless courts strike down the federal law saying no state has to recognize another's gay marriages and that gay married couples don't get federal spousal benefits and protections.

McCain needs to know that Schwarzenegger's decision to oppose an anti-gay state initiative puts him in good company with another Ex-Actor in a Very Supportive Role: In 1978, Ronald Reagan, then a former California governor with White House ambitions, torpedoed the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay or gay-friendly teachers.

Advised to duck it, Reagan is credited with sinking the hateful initiative, which lost by 1 million votes.

John McCain is auditioning for the part of a lifetime. Let's hope he takes his cues from Schwarzenegger and Reagan when they led by gay-friendly example.



Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.