Oklahoma, Jimmy LaSalvia’s Exit, and the Republican Party’s Need to Evolve

Life is not very pleasant if you are homophobic and are living in America right now. I remember how five years ago, my fellow gay rights activists and I weren’t even sure that we could get gay marriage legalized in California. The idea that in five years, Oklahoma might be in play, barring a situation in which federal intervention legalized gay marriage in all fifty states, was not something that I could fathom, and I suspect that the same is true for most gay rights activists. The state of Oklahoma is represented by two of the most of the most homophobic Senators serving in Washington, D.C. right now. Both have voted for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Tom Coburn, the junior Senator, once declared that the “gay agenda” was the biggest threat to freedom in America. James Inhofe, the junior Senator, proudly described his successful Senator campaign as focusing on “God, guns, and gays,” and has boasted through a spokesperson that he refuses to hire any staffers that are gay. Oklahoma’s governor, Mary Fallin, has recently fought to deny spousal benefits to members of the National Guard who are gay. You know, because social conservatives are all about “supporting our troops.” Yet earlier this week, a federal court ruled in favor of gay marriage in Oklahoma. While the decision is being appealed, the fact that gay marriage in Oklahoma is even on the table represents the incredible strides that the Gay Rights Movement has taken in the last two years. Similarly, the fact that there are now legally recognized same-sex marriages in Utah is something that would have seemed like a fantasy five years ago.

I wanted to devote the bulk of this blog post, however, to another sign of the times. Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of GOProud, has announced that he is leaving the Republican Party due to its institutional homophobia. Now, a little bit of background about GOProud is important. This organization was started as an alternative to the Log Cabin Republicans. The Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) is an organization of gay Republicans that supports the GOP while working for gay rights. The LCR does have a record of taking Republican politicians to task when they express homophobia, most significantly by refusing to endorse George W. Bush in 2004 after the president announced his support for an anti-gay marriage amendment. GOProud, however, was formed in no small part because some people felt that the LCR was not showing enough support for the Republican Party. Back when I was on Tumblr, I documented how GOProud had invited Ann Coulter, who has gone on record opposing virtually every gay rights reform in the last ten years, to speak at an event, and how Chris Barron, a co-founder of the organization, attacked an LCR member for daring to criticize Herman Cain’s homophobia. In fact, Barron tried to portray Cain as the dream candidate for gay voters. If the Democrats had nominated Pat Buchanan, I might have been able to buy that. So when I found out that Jimmy LaSalvia, another co-founder of GOProud, was leaving the Republican Party, I greatly admired his decision, but I was also surprised.

While the Republican Party leadership may ignore the writing on the wall here, LaSalvia’s defection for friendlier pastures demonstrates that homophobia is killing the GOP. As I mentioned earlier, LaSalvia co-founded a group whose very purpose was to always champion the Republican Party, even when the party promoted anti-gay policies. The fact that LaSalvia is no longer willing to be repeatedly denigrated and abused by the party that he has loyally supported is a testament to how sick people are getting of  homophobia and how many of them are turning on the Republican Party as a result. According to a study by Gary J. Williams in cooperation with Gallup, President Obama got seventy-six percent of the vote from Americans who identified as, “gay, lesbian, or bisexual.” Mitt Romney got twenty-two percent. In an October 2012 Gallup poll, President Obama’s approval rating among LBGT Americans was a full twenty-three percentage points higher than his approval rating among non-LGBT Americans. I may be wrong here, but I have a hard time imagining that LGBT Americans are vastly more likely than heterosexual Americans to support left-leaning economic policies. My guess would be that LGBT Americans are not much more or less likely than heterosexual Americans to favor the Democratic Party’s economic policy. Rather, I believe that a heavy majority of LGBT Americans are painfully aware of the fact that they are not welcome in the Republican Party unless they check their desire for civil rights at the door. Of course, the Republican Party’s pandering to racist voters is probably alienating gays of all races, especially given the fact that the rate of interracial relationships is higher among same-sex couples than among opposite-sex couples.

Probably more damaging to the Republican Party is the fact that so many heterosexuals now support equal rights for gays. According to a Gallup poll, fifty-three percent of Americans favor legalizing gay marriage. Fifty-eight percent of political Independents and sixty percent of Americans who identify as “moderate” favor it. This represents a massive shift in the liberal direction since the 1990s, with a 1996 Gallup poll showing just twenty-seven percent of Americans in support of gay marriage. Compare this with gun control, where America has actually become more in line with the Republican Party since the 1990s. According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans favoring stricter gun control has gone from seventy percent in 1993 to just forty-nine percent in 2013. While the GOP will probably benefit politically by standing firm on gun control, it is hard to deny that continuing to take a conservative position on gay rights is a recipe for political disaster. The percentage of Americans who favor same-sex marriage will only increase. While only forty-one percent of senior citizens favor legalization of gay marriage, seventy percent of Americans ages eighteen to twenty-nine do. Thus, unless Republicans change course, they are in for a world of hurt when the youth of today become the majority. Writing for National Review, hardly a hotbed for gay rights support, Jonah Goldberg observed, “it vexes some older conservatives that some young conservatives are insufficiently anti–gay marriage.” How right he is (on this issue.) Jan van Lahouizen  and Joel Benenson, pollsters for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, released a study last March stating that fifty-three percent of Republicans under thirty believe that their states should legalize gay marriage.

And unsurprisingly, the surge in public support does not just apply to gay marriage. During the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” controversy, poll after poll showed that the majority of Americans were in favor of letting gays and lesbians serve openly in the military. As far as back as 2011, the Public Religion Research Institute took a poll that showed fifty-six percent of Americans supporting the right of gay couples to adopt children. In 2013, the Institute found in a poll that seventy-three percent of Americans, including seventy-five percent of Independents, sixty percent of Republicans, and fifty-nine percent of white evangelical Protestants favor workplace protection laws for gay people. And a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed support for allowing gay youth to serve in the Boy Scouts of America at sixty-three percent and support for allowing gay adult leaders at fifty-six percent.

Every party in every country evolves, for better or for worse, and every party must evolve for the better to stay in a position of power. The Democratic Party had to learn that tolerating or promoting Jim Crow was not the way to build and maintain a base of power outside the South. The Republican Party must return to its roots by embracing civil rights for all.

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