The Right Thing for the Right Wing

by Chris Curran | 5/20/02 5:00am

Midterm elections in 2002 and the presidential election of 2004 loom large for President George W. Bush. While the president has reached out to many new and existing groups for support, there is one group that he has ignored but should invest time and energy in courting -- the homosexual community. It is in President Bush's electoral interest to reach out to homosexuals. More importantly, it is the right thing to do.

This group, as a general rule, does not feel comfortable with the Republican Party, and with good reason. The party, sometimes beholden to its Bible-Belt constituents, has been entirely unreceptive to gay rights. The Republican Party's irrational fear of homosexuals is anachronistic and needs to be relegated to the dustbin of party history. President Bush, who as a practicing Christian is comfortable with those same Bible-Belt Republicans, is just the man to make the historic change. Just as only the ardent anti-Communist Richard Nixon could make a trip to recognize China and only Democratic President Bill Clinton could push welfare reform through Congress, change with respect to gay rights will be much easier to achieve if it is initiated by a Republican.

There are many concrete ways in which President Bush could choose to express inclusion of homosexuals. The administration could support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would give this group the same protection against being fired, demoted or transferred due to their status that others employees currently enjoy due to their race, gender, ethnicity or status as a Vietnam- era veteran. Or he could push the Republican Party to modify its platform to include homosexuals as worthy of the same protections as the party believes others should enjoy for age, sex, religion, creed, race, disability or national origin.

Ironically, the same party platform that omits homosexuals from protection also says, "We denounce all those who practice or promote religious intolerance." I find it ironic because religion is the main reason why the party chooses to omit homosexuals from protection. Can one find a secular rationale for omitting homosexuals from workplace protection law? I believe it would be difficult, indeed impossible, to do so. While I concede that many of our laws are based upon religious values, they tend to be based upon the universal ones: we have laws against theft because everyone accepts that stealing is wrong and laws against murder because that too is unequivocally wrong. But the religious justification for discrimination against homosexuals is no stronger than the biblical case for slavery, and like that particularly evil form of discrimination, it is an idea beyond which we can, and should, evolve.

The Republican Party has claimed to be the party of "family values" since before it became fashionable. To change its policy on homosexual adoption would bring the party more in line with the ideals it professes to accept. Some states currently ban homosexual adoption, even though there are thousands of children living in foster care. Were President Bush to push for federal legislation outlawing the denial of adoption rights, he could help children find loving families while improving his civil rights record.

I am cognizant that President Bush would likely incur a substantial backlash from some of his base by adopting a pro-homosexual attitude. But President Bush has shown that he is capable of alienating parts of his base without diminishing his national popularity, and he could do the same with homosexuals. He alienated free traders with his adoption of steel tariffs and angered his free-market capitalist supporters when he signed a pork-laden farm bill. In both cases he sacrificed principle for electoral benefit. With homosexuals, he could make substantial inroads in a population that often votes for Democrats over Republicans by margins of 40 points or more. While I would certainly prefer that he act on principle, any pro-homosexual changes would be no less beneficial if they were motivated by the upcoming elections than if they were based upon principle.

There are other reasons why homosexuals would be more likely to vote Republican, if only they were not alienated by the immoderate social views reflected in the party platform. For reasons biological and legal, homosexuals are less likely to have children and therefore they are more likely to have higher levels of disposable income. A portion of this disposable income is invested in financial instruments. While Republicans have been promoting capital gains tax cuts for years for philosophical reasons, it may be possible to parlay this policy into one that would appeal to the self-interest of homosexuals with high incomes. It is a group that holds an opportunity for huge inroads for Republican success if only the party would drop its antiquated hostility towards homosexuals.

While I have harped extensively on the electoral benefits that could accrue to Mr. Bush if he were to adopt gay rights, I do not wish to in any way slight the most important reason why he should support homosexuals: it is the right thing to do. The relative paucity of time I have spent discussing this is a result of the clarity with which I see this issue. There have been many artificially constructed social structures created throughout our history that were later shown to be wrong. Slavery was a peculiar institution whose evil was eventually recognized. Women were denied the vote for approximately the first 140 years of our nation's existence, but they eventually gained suffrage. Segregation was a bad idea, and was gradually eliminated. Such is the nature of progress. The unequal status that homosexuals currently suffer needs to be dispensed with, just as those other policies were, the sooner the better.

There is no rational reason why homosexuals should be treated differently than non-homosexuals. While I see it as a moral issue, I recognize that others share a different sense of morality than I do. That is perfectly acceptable. But if I, a reliably conservative Republican, can come to see the issue in this unconventional light, then I hope that others can reevaluate their beliefs as well.