An interesting point made by Republican supporters about Democrats is that “you’re never going to vote for John McCain anyway, so why should he care what you think?” This challenges those of us who are inclined to consider carefully our endorsement to coherently answer the (admittedly weaker) question Under what circumstances might I vote for a Republican presidential candidate?
If we are to be persuaded to vote for Mr McCain, or some future Republican candidate, we would naturally wish to be assured that they had a 'reasonable' stance on LGBT issues. A seemingly universal, and perennial, admission by LGBT Republicans is the judgement that LGBT rights issues are subservient to other issues, be they the war or the economy or whatever. We ought to question, then, presupposing that he is not a homophobe, whether Mr McCain is doing all he can within the confines of Republican ideology to support these issues, or if he is not, that there is an overriding justification for this.
In this spirit, allow me to propose two compromise positions that seem to me to be consistent with Republican values (by which I mean conservative and broadly libertarian values):
First, since there is excellent bipartisan evidence that DADT is harming the effectiveness of the military and its ability to recruit and train LGBT personnel, it would seem to be entirely consistent with McCain’s emphasis of military effectiveness to repeal DADT.
Second, on the subject of LGBT marriage, any number of compromises might be possible even within the Republican ticket: for instance, recognizing that the realities of California and Idaho (for example) are rather different, it would be consistent with the principles of small government and state supremacy to endorse the states’ right to decide for themselves; alternatively, recognizing that objections to LGBT marriage are may be recast as religious objections to the nomenclature, he might propose a federal definition of civil partnership and propose marriage as an (excluded to LGBT people) special case of this. Such compromise positions are intellectually problematic – they continue to discriminate even as they acknowledge the existence of value in LGBT relationships – but if indeed other issues are more pressing then such a compromise might well be acceptable.
In point of fact, if the various other issues are indeed so pressing, then any sort of statement that McCain acknowledges the contribution of LGBT people to society but that the time is not appropriate might well be persuasive. Tellingly, however, no such statement, nor either of the above suggestions, is a part of the McCain platform.
In fact the strongest argument that Mr Mcain is not a homophobe would appear to be that his Campaign Chief of Staff is, so it is alleged, openly gay. The fallacy of this argument ought to be manifest, but in case it is not, allow me to explain: my boss is a homophobe, and he is nonetheless content to employ me (an openly gay man). Somewhat conveniently, and rather unfortunately for me, I am a demonstration of this logical fallacy.
So why then are proposals like these, that are perfectly compatible with Republican views, not on a Republican platform that advertises itself as being “for change”? In order to explain this, I introduce a scientific (i.e. falsifiable) hypothesis:
NO LGBT issue will EVER be on a Republican Presidential ticket UNLESS and UNTIL LGBT Republicans are able to VISIBLY clinch an election for the Republican platform.
This claim is made from the experiences of many minority groups within many democracies and draws upon a common phenomenon: political access will change precisely nothing without political power. This was true for the Clinton administration, where despite LGBT people having considerable influence in setting policy, the lack of a grassroots LGBT movement meant that there was no political power to achieve that administrations goal of opening up the military. To take a second example, contemplate why, for that matter, did Boris Johnson (the Mayor of London) – a conservative – attend London Pride?
The ramification for Gay Republicans of this principle is this: you shall forever be repeating the mantra “there are more important issues” until you are able to use your voice specifically as LGBT Republicans to elect candidates. Having LGBT people within the Republican party will never be enough to bring LGBT issues onto the Republican ticket in any form beneficial for LGBT people. If you really do disagree with the Democrats, and if you’re not prepared to defer your freedom perpetually, then you must build your own political power.
Of course, the LGBT Democrats are a lot further along this road and there is a useful corollary for the Obama campaign: this will be a close election. If LGBT freedom is to be a concern of an Obama administration, it is essential that the LGBT Democrat vote is there and vocal in the swing states. Neither "I don't do politics" nor "I preferred Hilary" nor "I'm still deciding" is enough: this election is a unique opportunity to build considerable power for LGBT reform. We must not waste it.
9 months ago