Gay Republicans are certainly wary of the virulent anti-gay rhetoric of Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum. But when it comes to Newt Gingrich, gay Republican organizations are giving the former speaker a pass.
On Tuesday, Newt told an Iowa man that if marriage equality was the only issue he cared about, then he should support President Obama. Initially, the incident was reported more as a glib comment than a discussion, but the point was accurate: on the issue of same-sex marriage, the candidate cannot represent the interests of the gay community. If you can look past the marriage issue and agree with Newt on the economy, Newt wants your vote.
The two main groups that represent gay Republicans are in the latter camp. After the video of the interaction surfaced, the Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement defending the candidate:
Based on his stated opposition to same-sex marriage, Newt ultimately concedes that he is not likely to win this particular voter’s support. It is irresponsible and sensationalist to twist this exchange into a blanket rejection of gay votes. As Gingrich himself said, gay voters who care about job creation, national security and a better future for America should consider supporting his campaign…As LGBT individuals and a community, it is important that we judge each candidate fairly, and not on soundbites taken badly out of context.
Christopher Barron, chief strategist for GOProud, had a similar comment:
The liberal press is at it again, attempting to mischaracterize the words of a Republican Presidential candidate. Speaker Gingrich said absolutely nothing wrong in his exchange with the gay Iowa voter. Indeed, Gingrich made it clear that gay people who care about job creation, national security and a better future for our country should support his campaign. Speaker Gingrich handled himself with class and dignity in this discussion with the gay voter and the press reports that have reported otherwise have done a real disservice to the truth.
Given his platform, Newt didn’t say anything different than if, say, President Obama told a voter he should vote Republican if all they care about is a federal anti-same-sex marriage amendment. But their defense of Newt says a lot about the role they play in the Republican party and particularly in the primaries. Unlike LGBT rights activists on the other side of the aisle, Barron and Log Cabin Republicans executive director R. Clarke Cooper don’t begrudge their candidates who don’t hold progressive views on a range of LGBT concerns.
This is a candidate who said gay marriage was “a temporary aberration that will dissipate” and criticized President Obama for not defending the Defense of Marriage Act. As speaker, Gingrich pushed DOMA through the house, didn’t advance gay rights initiatives pushed by activists, and more recently was involved in an effort to recall three Iowa judges who legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Newt likely takes a different tone with gay activists in private. Cooper is comforted by the fact that Newt personally told him that there should be a legal way for gay couples to have hospital visitation access and a way to inherit property. He is also comforted that Gingrich has spoken against LGBT workplace discrimination. While he’d prefer full marriage equality, gay Republicans seem willing to take what they can get from their party. Cooper has confirmed that so far there are gay Republican delegates lined up to represent Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich at the Republican convention. Granted, these aren’t the worst offenders on the issue.
GOProud is against a federal amendment banning gay marriage, but believes the issue should be left up to the states. That’s a position that basically would allow conservative states to outlaw same-sex marriage in perpetuity.
Though Republican candidates continue to encounter activists and gay voters who challenge their views on gay rights, there is little push within the gay Republican establishment for candidates to embrace more than a modicum of the gay rights agenda.
Pema Levy is a News Writer at TPM covering the 2012 election. Before coming to TPM, Pema was an assistant editor at The American Prospect where she wrote about politics and the economy.