GOP gubernatorial candidate can’t bring himself to say marriage equality is legal

GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin campaign with Sen. Ted Cruz
GOP gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin (R) campaigned with Sen. Ted Cruz (R) Photo:

Glenn Youngkin, who just last month became the Republican nominee for Governor in Virginia, must think it’s 2004.

It’s bad enough that Youngkin has made anti-trans attacks part of his campaign schtick. Now he’s dodging and weaving on a long-settled issue: marriage equality.

Related: Caitlyn Jenner refuses to say Donald Trump lost the election & dodges question on trans rights

Asked by the New York Times if he supports marriage equality, Youngkin “declined to say.” Instead, he used a generic “conservative” label to describe himself without actually describing any of his policy proposals.

At this stage of the game, most Republicans acknowledge that, like it or not, marriage equality is the law of the land. Even Donald Trump, who has endorsed Youngkin, has said so. The focus of most Republicans now is to instead carve out broad exemptions to LGBTQ rights under the guise of religious liberty.

Youngkin’s refusal to accept marriage equality provided an easy opportunity for his opponent to criticize him for. Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, who has previously served as governor, has a long track record of support for LGBTQ rights. He even officiated at a same-sex wedding in 2014.

“While Terry McAuliffe is committed to advancing LGTBQ equality and building a better future for all Virginians, Glenn Youngkin is representing the reprehensible bigotry and exclusion of a bygone era,” Manuel Bonder, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia, told LGBTQ Nation in a statement.

“Youngkin has repeatedly made clear that he does not believe in a Virginia where everyone can live, work, and raise a family without being discriminated against for who they are,” Bonder added.

It’s not as if Youngkin couldn’t have quickly pivoted to the religious liberty argument. In fact, in an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show last month, Youngkin said that his support for religious freedom differentiated himself from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) endorsed Youngkin, he specifically called him out as “a defender of religious liberty.”

But by not stating the obvious, Youngkin is clearly appealing to the most extreme elements of the GOP, particularly its hardcore Christian conservative base. He’s also signaling that he’d be happy — or his base would be happy, at least — if the courts somehow reversed marriage equality.

This is Youngkin’s first run for office, having spent his career in finance. He seems intent on ensuring that he doesn’t take any stand beyond basic political platitudes. He’s tried to cloak his support for Trump while McAuliffe has tried to highlight it.

At the same time, Youngkin’s courting Trump voters by, in true Trumpian fashion, going on a tear against transgender people in speeches and social media posts. Trump has cast a long shadow on the Virginia race from his Mar-a-Lago exile, apparently still sore over losing the state in the fall.

Most of all, Youngkin is calculating that there is no political benefit on the state GOP level to say anything that could be remotely interpreted as pro-LGBTQ, and with good reason: the race for the lieutenant governor nomination in the Virginia Republican Party was noteworthy primarily for its anti-LGBTQ attacks.

One moderate candidate, Glenn Davis, was targeted by an opponent for wearing a Pride t-shirt at an event at Hampton Roads. A subsequent text asked, “Did you know Glenn Davis is a gay Democrat?”

The problem for Youngkin is that Virginia has become an increasingly blue state. It hasn’t elected a Republican to the governorship since 2009. The state voted for the Democratic presidential nominee by comfortable margins in each of the past four elections.

The kind of extreme politics that dominate the state’s GOP isn’t going to play well with most Virginia voters. In fact, it’s a guaranteed loser.

Which may well be Youngkin’s fate as well.

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