Mehlman is the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.
Because his tenure as RNC chairman and his time at the center of the Bush political machine coincided with the Republican Party’s attempts to exploit anti-gay prejudices and cement the allegiance of social conservatives, his declaration to the world is at once a personal act and an act of political speech.
“I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult. No one else knew this except me. My family didn’t know. My friends didn’t know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic,” he said.
So we knew before he did. Or before he could accept it. During his time as George W. Bush’s campaign manager and through his tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee, 21 states banned same-sex marriage. Now Mehlman’s become an activist for marriage rights:
Chad Griffin, the California-based political strategist who organized opposition to Proposition 8, said that Mehlman’s quiet contributions to the American Foundation for Equal Rights are “tremendous,” adding that “when we achieve equal equality, he will be one of the people to thank for it.” Mehlman has become a de facto strategist for the group, and he has opened up his rolodex — recruiting, as co-hosts for the AFER fundraiser: Paul Singer, a major Republican donor, hedge fund executive, and the president of the Manhattan Institute; Benjamin Ginsberg, one of the GOP’s top lawyers; Michael Toner, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission; and two former GOP governors, William Weld of Massachusetts and Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey. Dustin Lance Black, the Academy Award winning writer of “Milk,” said, “Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights…”
This is a big deal. Mehlman managed President Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004 and chaired the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007. Many influential Republicans have worked with him and respect him. He makes it harder for them to think of homosexuality as a behavior. They now know somebody who is gay. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, they now know that they know somebody who is gay.
That’s important, because if you look at polls over the last 30 or 40 years, two factors have been driving public opinion in the direction of gay rights. One is whether you know someone who’s openly gay. More and more people do, and those who do are more tolerant of homosexuality. The other factor is whether you think it’s a choice. This belief, too, has increased over time, and tolerance has increased with it. It’s pretty hard to imagine that the guy who ran the GOP during its recent campaigns against gay marriage would come out as homosexual unless he felt he had no choice. This is simply who he is.
Pam Spaulding quotes Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, in The Advocate that Mehlman is “abdicating core Republican beliefs…But it’s never been about the leaders. It’s always been about the people… [Mehlman] is no longer a major party leader, so I don’t know how influential he is, to be honest with you.”
(Jesus’ General Tweets, “I have a feeling NOM’s Brian Brown will be ‘abdicating core Republican beliefs’ at some point.”)
The Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement “very supportive and appreciative of Ken’s coming out.”
Outing activist Mike Rogers says he forced Ambinder to put the story out early. Jake Tapper did a 2005 profile of Rogers for GQ which included Mehlman. He denied he was gay at the time and said then that he “didn’t know” if homosexuality is a choice.
Remember: Joe.My.God has video of Mehlman Outed On Larry King By Bill Maher In 2006 and a 2005 Mehlman Cartoon. If you’re interested in following this, I’d suggest you watch Joe & Pam throughout the day.