Republicans and Gay Rights: 5 Ways The GOP Could Do Better

On Thursday, we learned that the House GOP has started holding informal classes to teach its members how to stop sounding sexist. Speaker John Boehner commented on the story by saying his members need to "be more sensitive" to women, adding that he also wants to support gay candidates in the GOP. We think it’s a long shot, what with the party having spent its entire existence fighting to deny protections and rights to LGBT people. (A little over a year ago, Boehner himself spent $3 million of taxpayers’ money fighting marriage equality.)

But if the GOP is going to make a serious attempt at becoming more inclusive, we’ve got a couple of suggestions of where they can start:


Boehner proclaimed that he’d like more gay candidates in the GOP on Thursday, just one day after Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, launched an effort to withhold party funds from any Republican candidate who happens to be gay. Most notably, gay Republican candidates in northeastern Massachusetts and southern California won’t receive backing from the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee or individual Republican House members if Forbes’ campaign is successful.


This is an easy one. If the GOP wants to recruit gay candidates, it probably shouldn’t also maintain that those candidates don’t have the right to marry who they love. The 2012 Republican Party platform called gay marriage “an assault on the foundation of our society.” None of the Republicans mentioned as possible presidential candidates in 2016 — Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and, to some delusional people, Jeb Bush —support marriage equality. (Christie has fought against it as New Jersey Governor, while Paul once compared homosexuality to bestiality.) At the end of the day, LGBT folk aren’t going to be attracted to the GOP’s “small government” message when the party also advocates for big government blocking their right to get married.


The Senate made history by passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would institute workplace protections based on gender and sexual orientation, earlier this year. But Boehner, in classic Boehner style, didn’t put it up for a vote in the House. The upside is that 10 Republicans voted for ENDA, and their support was crucial to its passage. But the vast majority of the party voted against it. Opposing basic workplace protections for LGBT workers is tantamount to saying that gay people don’t deserve the same rights as everybody else. When the most powerful people in the party feel that way, it’s probably not going to convince too many gay politicians to suddenly flock to the GOP.


If Republicans are sincere in their desire to recruit gay candidates, they might want to consider how the party is going about things in Wyoming. Liz Cheney is challenging incumbent Republican Mike Enzi for his Senate seat, and order to fend her off, pro-Enzi groups started attacking Cheney as being too pro-gay. They ran ads connecting Cheney to her gay sister, Mary, and this successfully drove down Cheney’s poll numbers.

To assure Republicans in Wyoming that she is very much still anti-gay, Cheney essentially disowned her sister shortly thereafter, leading to a public, cringe-worthy family feud. The entire episode was ugly, off-putting, and blatantly homophobic. After the dust settled, the main take-away was that, family relations and party politics aside, the one thing Republicans can agree on is that gays are bad. It’s hard to imagine too many LGBT candidates who would want to be part of the same party that puts money into a Senate race like this.


There are two ostensibly pro-LGBT groups in the Republican Party right now: GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans. Both groups consistently refuse to condemn any of the homophobia in the GOP, while routinely opposing pro-gay Democrats. The farcical hypocrisy of both groups is on constant display; see, for example, the time the Log Cabin Republicans criticized President Obama for supporting gay marriage. Or have a look at this tortured, laughable defense of Liz Cheney by Log Cabin Republican executive director Gregory Angelo: Angelo refutes his own headline — “The Cheney Sisters Are Both Right” — by the third paragraph, then criticizes Hillary Clinton for not supporting gay marriage sooner.

There are but four Senate Republicans who support gay marriage, and none of them speak out about it very often. There was even a gay Republican candidate for president last year, but he wasn’t invited to any of the debates, and you probably don’t know his name. If the GOP wants Republicans to feel less marginalized within the party, it needs to drop the token outreach and convince LGBT people that, if they do join the ticket, they’ll actually have a voice.