Few in the GOP field could rival President Obama with their records on LGBT issues, and yet, the outcome of the Republican presidential race riveted the attention of LGBT people in 2011.
Many of the contenders were notoriously anti-gay. They were often asked about, or were inclined to share, their positions on gay-related issues. And, historically, no matter how much better the Democratic candidate has been than the Republican one, about 25 to 30 percent of LGBT voters vote for the Republican presidential candidate.
The campaign got underway this year with the large field of Republicans jockeying for position. Many of them became frontrunners, and just as many dropped far behind over a sex scandal, a memory lapse, or some other form of political lameness.
Fred Karger, an activist from California, made history by being the first openly gay presidential candidate to make a formal bid for the Republican nomination.
But Karger’s campaign was hobbled from the beginning because he identified himself as a gay candidate for the nomination. Politically, that dinged him as a one-issue candidate. And, except for an occasional profile of Karger as an oddity in the race, the mainstream media essentially ignored him. His name was often left out of polls, and he was never allowed to participate in the many nationally televised debates.
The few other Republicans who had relatively moderate positions on LGBT-related matters were down in the low one-digit percentile with Karger. Both were former governors — Gary Johnson of New Mexico and Jon Huntsman of Utah. And neither could be called liberal.
Huntsman said he supports civil unions; Johnson said he couldn’t find any legitimate reason to oppose marriage for same-sex couples. But, unfortunately, Johnson rarely registered even one percent, and Huntsman hovered around 2 or 3 percent, nationally, though recent polling in New Hampshire has him at almost 12.
Then there’s Ron Paul. Paul isn’t for allowing same-sex couples to marry, but he’s for equality. His answer is to get government out of the business of deciding who can marry.
Paul has held onto a steady third place nationally, but is leading in Iowa and improving in New Hampshire. This has brought him more scrutiny in a race where nobody can seem to hold onto first-place. And that scrutiny brought with it news in late December that Paul had sent out a direct mail solicitation letter in the 1990s, warning people to prepare for race wars and a “federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS.”
Paul told reporters he didn’t write the letters and disavows their content. But Paul’s real handicap — though largely undiscussed — appears to be age. He’s 76 — older than was Ronald Reagan when he won his second term.
The rest of the GOP field is in the rabid red zone on LGBT issues — and none worse than former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Santorum denounces marriage equality for same-sex couples every chance he gets. He brags about his personal efforts in Iowa last year to oust three justices who were part of the ruling that the state constitution required treating gay couples equally. He promised that, if elected president, he would travel the country to try and repeal state laws that allow marriage equality — even in states where voters want to keep those laws.
Santorum wants to reinstate the ban on gays in the military and said nothing, during a debate this year, in defense of a gay soldier being booed. Instead, Santorum characterized the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as “tragic” and giving gays a “special privilege.” Santorum has never gone above the single-digits in polling.
U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is not much better on LGBT issues or in the polling. She had a brush with frontrunner status with the Iowa straw poll in August, but straw polls are easily skewed by a candidate’s money or campaign organization. She’s worked to ban marriage equality in Minnesota and wants a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
The odd thing was that, way back in June, during the first nationally televised GOP debate, Bachmann almost sounded ready to temper her views a little. The debate was held in New Hampshire and one of the local reporters asked the candidates if they were elected president would they try to repeal New Hampshire’s new marriage equality law. To the surprise of many, Bachmann said no. But then she later backed off that position and emphasized her support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in all states.
A Bachmann compatriot, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, whose positions on LGBT issues were also fairly hostile, came in third in the Iowa straw poll in August and dropped out the next day.
Herman Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, did worse — he came in fifth in the Iowa straw poll, but stuck around and gained ground as other candidates began to fall.
Like Bachmann, Cain initially said marriage equality was a state’s rights issue. He even said he would not want a federal constitutional amendment. Then, once he became a frontrunner, he changed his position, saying there should be a federal law “protecting” marriage as one man and one woman.
The irony, of course, was that his campaign fell apart over allegations that Cain was married to one woman while having an affair with another and perhaps sexually harassing several more. He announced in early December that he was “suspending” his campaign.
Texas Governor Rick Perry came into the race after the Iowa straw poll and immediately jumped to frontrunner status.
Initially, Perry also sounded like he might try to moderate his views on gays a little, suggesting maybe the marriage issue should be left to the states. He was never a moderate on gay issues, and his recent ad in Iowa — pitting gays in the military as an opposite to children celebrating Christmas — established that point.
But Perry’s campaign self-destructed in the debates, where he proved himself stunningly inarticulate and unable to recall his own positions.
As all the other candidates sank by their own weight, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich rose to frontrunner status in December, and prematurely declared himself the nominee apparent.
On gay-related positions, he’s essentially the same as the other GOP contenders, but Gingrich added one unique shocker this month: He said that, as President, he might ignore a court ruling that supported marriage equality for same-sex couples.
This speak-before-you-think tendency has damaged Gingrich’s already history-ravaged credibility, and he’s been sliding down the polls.
Finally, there’s former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Romney is the candidate who is considered by most political pundits as the most viable challenger to President Obama. He’s been an elected official, founded an investment firm, funded the start-up of many businesses (read: “job creator”), managed the international Olympic Games, and appears to be a happily married man and devoted father.
But polls indicate Republican voters just haven’t warmed up to him, and many pundits believe it’s because voters don’t trust Romney to be as conservative as he talks.
Romney was challenged on this perception during the last debate of the year. Fox News reporter Chris Wallace noted that, while Romney opposes same-sex marriage now, he promised, while running against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate in 1994, to be an “effective leader” in the fight for “full equality” for gay and lesbian Americans.
Romney said his position had not changed — that he still doesn’t believe in discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation, and that he has always opposed same-sex marriage, something voters in Massachusetts can confirm.
But while LGBT voters might buy that Romney isn’t a flip-flopper on LGBT issues, they’re likely to see in his positions a tendency toward self-contradiction: He’s opposed to discriminating based on sexual orientation, but he’s for denying equal treatment to gay couples obtaining marriage licenses.
Among LGBT Republican and conservative voters, there appears to be a split. Log Cabin Republicans recently criticized Romney for suggesting that, if a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage was enacted, he’d support allowing existing marriage licenses to same-sex couples remain valid, but not future ones.
Three days later, GOProud, a conservative gay group, praised Romney for his positions on “free markets and free enterprise.”
Romney is second in the national polling for the Republican nomination, second in Iowa polling, and has a significant lead in New Hampshire. In polling against a potential race with President Obama, Romney has consistently been just three points behind the incumbent, and, with a roughly three-point margin of error, that’s a very close race.
Among voters in general, Romney’s a contender. And in a close general election, the LGBT vote — including the one in four who are likely to vote Republican — can make enough of a difference that neither candidate can write this constituency off.
But it’s too soon to start counting those votes. Presidential campaigns are unpredictable.
Just Saturday (December 24), news emerged that both Gingrich and Perry failed to garner enough signatures to qualify for the Virginia Republican primary — an embarrassing and potentially consequential failure. The Associated Press called it a “major setback” for Gingrich, who is in a head-to-head battle with Romney in the polling.
And presidential campaigns are entertaining. On Dec. 22, a man dressed in a silver robot suit showed up at a Bachmann event in Iowa to deliver his message against her hostile positions on gay-related issues.
“Michele Bachmann, I will not rest until you support equal rights for human and robot gay people.”
“You are a homophobe, you are a robo-phobe,” said the man, according to a video of the interaction. A very crowded restaurant booed the man soundly and told him to “get out of here.”
“I was programmed to do this. I cannot help myself. I am gay,” said the gay robot, to which someone seemed to yell out, “Stay in the closet.”
A woman’s voice can be heard saying, “Just let him go, let him go peacefully” and a woman at the door, as he’s passing through, pats him on the back and says, “Good work, thanks.”