GOP Partying Like It’s 1999 :: 2010 Election Marks Open Season on Gays

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Oct 25, 2010

There was a time, as recently as a few months ago, when the gay rights movement appeared to be gaining traction within one particularly unexpected demographic: the heart of the Republican Party. Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman came out, FOX News pundit Glenn Beck said he didn't much mind same-sex marriage, and Ann Coulter was scheduled to headline a gay (conservative) group's dinner. Meanwhile, poll after poll consistently reported broadening acceptance of LGBT people and accelerating support for their legal equality.

The socially conservative wing of the Republican establishment appeared, then, to have abandoned LGBT issues along with other "hot button" social issues like abortion and immigration to focus on what practically every political figure on both sides of the aisle have agreed to be the highest priority in these economic times: jobs, jobs, jobs. They seemed to be heeding Democrat James Carville's words a decade before: It's all about the economy, and only the economy.

Republican leaders have continually reiterated that social issues are not currently top-of-mind concerns and likely voters seem to agree. The Pew Research Center reported earlier this month that same-sex marriage ranked last among issues on voters' minds heading into the midterm elections -- the first time in nearly 15 years where the matter is not up to vote in any states.

But little more than one week out from those elections, anti-gay rhetoric has returned in a number of tightly-contested statewide races from coast to coast. This represents, admittedly, only the latest development in an election cycle that has been patently bizarre (to put it lightly).

New York, Colorado, Delaware ... Singing the Same Anti-Gay Song
New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino's recent statement that gay men and lesbian attempt to "brainwash" children into thinking gay identity is "an equally valid and successful option" is the most obvious anti-gay screed. He made it in a conversation with Orthodox Jewish leaders and almost immediately was forced to backtrack. Still, he insisted that opponent Andrew Cuomo bringing his daughters to New York Gay Pride march threatened them, and from that he did not backtrack.

Paladino represents perhaps the most high profile example of anti-gay rhetoric. Not only was it pretty far out there in the opinion of nearly all observers, it took place in a solid blue state that is known for its tolerance to gays, among other groups. Still, Paladino's gaffes were far from the only recent anti-gay rhetoric observed this election season.

Colorado senatorial candidate Ken Buck told Meet the Press earlier this month that he felt being gay was a choice akin to alcoholism. South Carolinian senator Jim DeMint proclaimed that gay teachers (as well as any sexually active, unmarried teachers) should be barred from the classroom.

Nevadan senatorial candidate Sharron Angle has voiced her disagreement with same-sex parents adopting children and has told her opponent Harry Reid to "man up."

Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell has previously described homosexuality as a social disorder, opposes Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal and gay baited her primary opponent Mike Castle.

Mother Jones last week reveled Alaskan Senate candidate Joe Miller counts among his payroll an anti-gay activist and "political consultant" Terry Moffitt, whose Family Policy Network labels homosexuality a "destructive lifestyle."

All the above examples have come from Republican candidates, many affiliated with the Tea Party movement. The GOP party platforms of at least two states -- Texas and Montana -- released this year have even went so far as to outline hopes of criminalizing gay sex. Through the lens of the recent spate of attacks against and suicides of LGBT people, such damning pronouncements seem both cringe-worthy and fringe-like.

Anti-Gay Rhetoric vs. Real Progress
With so little time to go before Americans take to the polls in an election on which control of the House and Senate hinges, the return of anti-gay rhetoric to the national political conversation is particularly puzzling as public opinion appears to be heading sharply in the opposite direction.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said she was not surprised by recent comments made by Republican candidates like Paladino and Buck in the home stretch of their campaigns.

"Playing the scapegoat card is a nasty tactic they employ to pander to their hardcore base in order to gin up votes and burnish their anti-LGBT or 'family values' credentials," Carey said. "Most Americans are concerned about bread-and-butter issues like jobs and the economy. And, every day, more and more people join the vast number of Americans who support equality. Still, some of these candidates are only concerned with political expediency, and to them that means beating up on others."

But LGBT people have not been the only minority interest group that has been kicked around by high-profile candidates in recent months. Angle, in particular, has been criticized for a racy television ad depicting dark-skinned "illegals" entering the U.S. and "putting Americans' safety and jobs at risk."

Larry Gross, a professor at the University Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication, described this election cycle as ridden with "a kind of extreme rhetoric that we haven't seen for some time" and said other factors are at work than the strategy of conservative politicians simply hoping to rile up the far Right, evangelical, anti-gay vote.

"There's a kind of unhinged quality to it [anti-gay remarks] that's associated in part with the Tea Party phenomenon where rhetorical excess plays well," Gross told EDGE. "This is a period where the level of anger and discontent is having a great deal of influence on voters. People who would otherwise not have been taken seriously as political candidates realize they have a perfect opportunity if they are sufficiently outrageous."

It's an opportunity, Gross says, at least partially spurred by Sarah Palin's success in becoming a top-grossing media personality. As so much media become beholden to the continued spread of YouTube and social networking, seemingly extreme, less experienced "Washington outsider" figures grab buzz often before mainstream media can sink their teeth into their talking points. Whether anti-gay vitriol going viral will translate to success beyond a primary victory for candidates like O'Donnell or Buck, however, remains to be seen.

"Under normal circumstances, you'd have to predict they'd lose an actual election, but this is not necessarily a regular election," Gross said. "But I think public homophobia will become a political liability, and it already has in some places."

Next: A Failing Strategy?


  • , 2010-10-25 11:36:49

    Homos have it coming. They’ve done plenty to deserve the political backlash they receive. Heckling us while manipulating the 9th circuit to wreck what’s left of marriage and force the deviancy upon us - with agression - won’t be forgotten. Pouring salt on open wounds forged by a economic and moral deathspiral. I’m not crying one tear for the backlash that is coming. May it be swift and just, and may we never forget how they’ve tried to destroy what’s left of the moral fabric in this country.

  • , 2010-10-25 11:58:47

    Want to apologize for the above comment. You guys are just people.

  • , 2010-10-25 12:47:05

    So ... are the two "anonymous" the same person? Or is someone apologizing for someone else being an asshole?

  • , 2010-10-25 16:29:17

    The so-called "backlash" against gays that h8ters are counting on...has already happened. We had 33 state edit their constitutions to "protect marriage" while happily allowing a murderer of a first wife go ahead and marry a third wife while serving time in jail. The evisceration of Prop 8 in federal court is a nail in the anti-gay rhetoric coffin. We are just people who want the same as anyone else. Nothing more, but CERTAINLY nothing less!

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