Pink Panic In the GOP

By Jonathan Capehart
Monday, October 1, 2007

Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani is fearless. He has faced down al-Qaeda, the Mafia and the National Rifle Association. But when it comes to facing homosexuals, he's a wimp. So are former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson. They're all victims of a Pink Panic that calls into question their ability to lead this fractured nation.

What freaked them out? A request from me to discuss gay issues. This is part of a disturbing pattern by the GOP candidates, highlighted this month by Post reporter Perry Bacon Jr., of shunning debates with people who might pose uncomfortable but pertinent questions. With the exception of Huckabee, the major-name Republicans skipped Tavis Smiley's "All-American Presidential Forum," geared to the black community, last Thursday at Morgan State University in Baltimore. Only McCain accepted an invitation this month to participate in a Univision television debate for Hispanic voters. The event was eventually canceled. And the Republicans have given the same silent treatment to gay men and lesbians.

After being a panelist at the Democratic presidential forum sponsored by the gay Human Rights Campaign and the Logo television channel last month in Los Angeles, I thought it a shame that the major GOP contenders declined a similar opportunity to talk directly to gay voters. So I invited each of them to talk with me for 15 minutes, using questions from the same batch asked of the Democrats. I included Huckabee after being impressed by his strong finish in the Iowa straw poll and his recent New Hampshire debate performance, in which he showed great character in smacking back an invitation to beat up on immigrants.

The first request to the campaign press secretaries was made via e-mail on Sept. 5. Hearing nothing, I sent another invitation on Sept. 14. This time I asked, "Could you please let me know your answer by Friday, September 21?" Again, no response. I was hardly surprised. Playing footsie with homosexuals won't win the candidates any votes with Republican primary voters.

The candidates have certainly revealed their positions on gay issues. They all are against ending the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military and against same-sex marriage, as are all of the major Democratic candidates. Romney and Huckabee would amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage; Giuliani, McCain and Thompson would not. Romney, Giuliani and Thompson are in favor of allowing domestic partnerships. But Thompson would amend the Constitution to allow states to ignore gay marriages that took place in other states, to block judges from imposing marriage equality without state legislative approval. McCain, Thompson and Huckabee are against including homosexuals among the groups protected by federal hate-crimes law. And they and Romney oppose passage of the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Romney's flip-flops on gay issues are well known. During his 1994 Senate campaign against Ted Kennedy, he said, "I am more convinced than ever before that as we seek to establish full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens, I will provide more effective leadership than my opponent." Then there's Rudy. Giuliani has been a friend of the gay community in words and deeds. In the spring of 1998, he made New York's domestic partners the equivalent of spouses under city law. This is still considered one of the most far-reaching, pro-gay-rights actions ever taken by a big-city mayor.

Here's what he told me when I interviewed him for a 1998 essay I wrote for Out magazine, "The Other Republican Revolution," chronicling the pro-gay stances of Giuliani and former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan: "I think I have helped in getting people in this city to perceive the gay and lesbian community as being the same, the dynamics as being the same as everybody else." He also said, "If there is somebody who can play the role of opening up the party to more moderate and broad-scale voters, I'm a person who can help do that." And this gem: "The party that wants to be a majority party should try to organize itself around the most legitimate principles that give it the broadest appeal possible without compromising itself."

If only that Rudy were in this presidential race. That Rudy was a leader. One who didn't duck challenging issues but faced them head-on. One who didn't tell people what they wanted to hear to get their votes but what they needed to hear to earn their votes.

America needs a leader with that kind of character and courage. When it comes to directly addressing homosexuals -- and, for that matter, people of color -- Huckabee, McCain, Romney, Thompson and Giuliani are lacking in both.

The writer is a member of the editorial page staff. His e-mail address iscapehartj@washpost.com.


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