For some people, the transition into 2012 signifies an exciting new round of the Olympic Games, an electrifying–or depending on who you are, petrifying–lead-up to “Doomsday” or the beginning of the countdown to the cultural behemoth that is the Super Bowl. But for this columnist dweeb, it means the official launch of the 2012 presidential election, the time of year when I fall asleep to NPR and drool at the sight of the latest polling numbers.
And while the world may not be watching a neck-and-neck contest as cutthroat as the one between President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it remains titillating as audiences observe the ever-changing circus show of hypocrisy known as the republican primary season.
But what strikes me most as I observe political strategies and gauge audience reactions, is the surprising change in tone republicans have taken in their handling of GLBT issues. That is, they’re actually discussing them this time.
Decades have gone by where the go-to line of rhetoric for a republican has been to slam the GLBT community as “immoral” and undeserving of the basic rights to which the rest of America is entitled. And while it is true that candidates on the stump like Rick Santorum (you know, that ultra conservative bum Pennsylvanians gave the boot six years ago) continue their arguments about GLBT community members being dangerously corrupt, it seems that the national republican message on gay rights has finally moved out of the hate-consumed closet and into the mainstream.
More specifically, GOP frontrunner and inevitable party nominee Mitt Romney has avoided delving too far into social conservative territory, making it a point to not publicly endorse his support for gay marriage, but still emphasize his fair treatment of the GLBT community and his belief in “equality,” as further evidenced in his remarks during the Jan. 8 New Hampshire debate.
“…If people are looking for someone who will discriminate against gays, or say they don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that from me,” Romney said.
Funnily enough, Santorum attempted to tout a similar–yet incredibly lacking in conviction– message about “equality” at the same event, despite trumping heavily against the mere existence of gays during regular campaign stops. It’s amusing how one’s opinion can go from being radically prejudiced at a local town hall meeting, but fair-minded and open when given a national platform.
The gist seems to be this: the national Republican Party is finally being forced to have a soul when it comes to GLBT rights.
I realize that not every republican is staunchly against gay rights or bigoted. It would be a terrible misrepresentation of a group of people to generalize such a thing. However, it can’t be denied that republicans have, until now, largely taken pride in their socially conservative take on gay rights and even molded it into a positive part of their political platform. As a result of advancements made since at least 2008, however, republicans are now being encouraged by their constituents to acknowledge a growing change in public opinion, one that now sees a staggering number of 51 percent of Americans supporting same-sex marriage, according to a CNN poll from April of last year.
Granted, Pennsylvania’s republicans won’t be able to head to the polls until April 24 of this year, but I’m left wondering how the republican stance on gay rights will continue to evolve in the Keystone State between now and that time. Environments such as Temple are blessed with community members who are more socially liberal and understanding of lifestyle differences, but the commonwealth on the whole doesn’t maintain the same climate as the liberal skyscrapers of Philadelphia evolve into the more reserved low-hanging trees of the “Bible Belt.”
Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see the Republican Party take its first step beyond the threshold of the closet, and attempt to promote what is quickly becoming a more mainstream message of acceptance toward the GLBT community. And more importantly, it’s a reassuring sign that efforts made from organizations of all types–including Temple’s own Queer Student Union–are not made in vain.
Give yourselves a pat on the back, activists. What a Republican candidate’s reluctant expression of support for the GLBT community really translates to is actually another big notch of success for the activist movement–locally and nationally.
Brandon Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.