Keeping Up With The Republicans: How the GOP Feels About Gays This Week

When they’re actively soliciting votes, the Grand Old Party is all over the headlines — gaffe-ing up a storm, inventing science, and faking soup kitchen photo ops. But have you been wondering what everyone’s favorite elephants have been up to lately? Here are some highlights from this week! (In all seriousness, I think it’s important to keep track of this stuff, even if it hurts sometimes.)


Yesterday, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) became the third Republican senator to come out in support of gay marriage, via an op-ed on her website. In the article, Murkowski describes how meeting a lesbian couple with four adopted kids led her to believe that their family should be afforded the same rights and recognitions as “traditional” ones. She also explains how this decision fits into her Republican beliefs:

“I am a life-long Republican because I believe in promoting freedom and limiting the reach of government.  When government does act, I believe it should encourage family values.  I support the right of all Americans to marry the person they love and choose because I believe doing so promotes both values:  it keeps politicians out of the most private and personal aspects of peoples’ lives – while also encouraging more families to form and more adults to make a lifetime commitment to one another.”



Murkowski joins Senators Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), who made his evolution public in early April, and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was the first to come out of this particular closet when he announced in mid-March that learning his son was gay had caused him to reverse his position on the issue (the ghost of Ronald Reagan has also chimed in affirmatively, via his daughter Patti Davis). Earlier this year, Hansen wrote a great piece about how conservatives jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon is way better than when they try to pop its tires, but doesn’t guarantee their support when it comes to other measures of equality. As she puts it, “What will [happen] when they can’t attach the keywords “commitment” and “conservative values” to these issues? Will they still care that we exist and need protections?” Murkowski’s willingness to flout the party line in this way makes her more of a friend to gays than most of her fellow party members, but as with the two who came before her, her reasoning suggests she might be a fair-weather one.  (It’s worth noting that she voted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, though.)


Meanwhile, as individual Republicans begin to see tiny glimmers of light, the party as whole remains firmly stuck in darkness — and probably will for quite some time. As Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson points out, it’s going to be very hard (though maybe not impossible) for Republicans to “become more socially inclusive without becoming socially liberal” and therefore alienating their base, which is still largely made up of religious conservatives. Jeb Bush has decided that a good plan is to stand firm on their positions, but change their language so that they sound more inclusive, sane, and fun at parties. He’s been saying this since the GOP’s April breakdown of the 2012 elections, when he recognized the country’s “growing divergence of opinion” on marriage equality and suggested that his party should “talk about it with a different tone,” perhaps one designed to lull people gently to sleep while they continue to quietly block legislation that could save lives. The GOP also hopes to win over young people by “making abortion funny,” because millenials only respond to sarcasm and tweets (“unfortunately… this is the generation that we’ve been dealt,” the speaker explained).




An A+ example of this commitment to darkness comes from the Idaho Republicans, who recently decided to try really hard to keep “sexual orientation” off the list of protected categories in their state’s anti-discrimination laws. Gay people in most of Idaho can still be fired, evicted, or denied service for no reason; as cities begin to change that, state Republicans are trying to stop them. Republican Resolutions Committee chairman Cornel Rasor explained the “reasoning” behind this attempt, saying that he doesn’t want gay people to be able to use businesses as “a platform for [their] lifestyles” and citing a fear that a gay worker might “come to work in a tutu.” The only good part of learning about this was that I also found out that Idaho is governed by someone named Butch Otter. Sadly, he is a Republican dude, and not an otter that looks good leaning on things.


On Monday, Cindy McCain received the Trevor Project’s annual Hero Award. Cindy McCain is the wife of Senator John McCain and, while she has been a vocal supporter for basic gay rights when much of her husband’s party won’t even go that far, she hasn’t really DONE much. The Trevor Project, like many organizations that need news coverage and money, makes weird award choices sometimes (Katy “Ur So Gay” Perry won last year), and people are wondering whether this one makes sense. Professor and activist Michael Bronski is mad, calling the decision “pandering”:

“Cindy McCain has said a few things in support of same sex marriage that seem to me to fall under the rubric of supporting basic civil rights. Some people don’t do that, like her husband. But have we reached the point where national groups are rewarding people for doing low-level basic common decency? Thanks for not kicking us in the head again!”

Lawyer and activist Linda Hirschman sees it instead as symbolic: “These powerless but culturally iconic figures like first ladies can help the movement. They are adding a patina of respectability to a movement that was disempowered.”



Although her husband Senator John McCain, who has actual political power, has always opposed marriage equality and “has not contemplated [his] position changing,” Cindy McCain and her daughter Meghan have been vaguely pro-LGBT for a while, in that ‘posing for “NO H8” pictures’ kind of way. Cindy McCain supported repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell way back in 2010, but then withdrew her support at her husband’s request.

Most interesting to me was the surprising prediction McCain made after the ceremony: “You’re going to see a major turn” in 2016, she told The Wrap. “By the next presidential election I think this* will be an issue that will be very much agreed on by both parties.”

*It’s unclear whether “this” referred to marriage equality or gay rights in general; the fact that news outlets don’t seem to realize the difference is frustrating.

McCain’s optimism is nice, probably too nice (kind of like last year, when she told CNN that most Republicans “believe in equality for all,” a statement that flies in the face of the GOP’s polling numbers, talking points, and actual legislative choices). But hey, maybe she’s onto something. After all, last time she and her husband disagreed — in 2010, when DADT first came up for repeal — she acquiesced, withdrawing her support for the repeal after “what can only have been a challenging conversation” with Senator McCain. But Cindy, not John, ended up on the right side of history. For all of our sakes, I hope this little spousal tiff turns out the same way.

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Cara is a former contributing editor for Autostraddle and a current staff writer at Atlas Obscura. She lives in Somerville with her girlfriend, their roommate, and a cat who can flush the toilet, and is generally thinking about gender, sustainable biodiversity, and/or rock & roll music. You can follow her on twitter @cjgiaimo if you want.

Cara has written 113 articles for us.


  1. In speaking of an awaited change in the Repiblican Party, my friend jokes that someday our current beliefs will be conservative while the new liberals are all nudist anarchists who are married to wild animals.

  2. “The only good part of learning about this was that I also found out that Idaho is governed by someone named Butch Otter. Sadly, he is a Republican dude, and not an otter that looks good leaning on things.”

    Hahahahahahahahahaha!!!! Soooo saaddd.

  3. Now all I can think is: I DO look good leaning on things…

    GOP should try it sometime…leaning on things.

  4. “The GOP also hopes to win over young people by ‘making abortion funny,’ because millenials only respond to sarcasm and tweets (‘unfortunately… this is the generation that we’ve been dealt,’ the speaker explained).”

    “Unfortunately, this is the generation that we’ve been dealt” is also my opinion of Baby Boomer Republicans who think they know something about the world full of technology, deficits, student loan debts, no jobs, and a filthy environment that we now live in, and make laws that affect my life with little to no regard to the suffering they’re putting us through.

    Can’t wait for those abortion jokes, bro!

  5. The way the political climate seems to be beginning to shift worries me, because it’s looking like eventually maybe being actively hostile to all things LGBTQ may not be a defining characteristic of the American Right at some point down the line. And if Republicans stop alienating queers, more queers will stay Republican. We’re only, what? 2-5% of the population? I’m not sure my dating pool could survive that blow.

    • Yeah, but there’s a very small amount of queer people who vote Republican or Independent (I feel as if there were more fiscally or otherwise socially conservative members of the LGBTQ+ community, there would be more of us voting for people like Ron Paul [ugh]), and it doesn’t seem like there’s a very large fraction of us that vote that way to begin with, according to that Pew study (and chipping away at the independent/other quotient even more would be people that vote Green party or other liberal third party candidates). I want to give a lot of us the benefit of the doubt because we know what it feels like to be marginalized, and will thus still feel an affinity to liberal politicians and groups who support welfare and other safety nets, and freedom of religion, and birth control, etc. Not to mention that even if a few Republican politicians suddenly support gay people, that doesn’t mean that they’ve reversed all their shitty opinions on poor people, PoC, women, trans* people, immigrants, non-Christians, etc. etc. etc. Yes, maybe some rich, white, cis gay men will see this as an opportunity to finally vote Republican without feeling like they’re shooting themselves in the foot. But I don’t see it as being a widespread problem. And besides, all the barriers that would suddenly crumble if those on both sides of the aisle started legislating from a more accepting, socially conscious mindset, we’ll all benefit so much I doubt we’ll even notice if our dating pool decreases (although I’m sure you were mostly joking, but fuck if queer people who vote Republican don’t frustrate/interest the hell out of me).

    • This is one of the biggest issues I’m dealing with right now. Coming out now, when I’ve had my adulthood shaped by my Christian and Conservative beliefs, is having such a profound impact on how I view things and how I vote and it’s like a tug of war between how Ive been conditioned to think and feel and the world I live in now. As far as being socially conservative goes, I simply can’t anymore. I had always thought of myself as socially “moderate” up until now, but I realize that even that point of view is hypocritical. As a gay Christian who just wants to find a place in society where I’m accepted and a wife down the road, Im asking others for compassion and understanding even though they may not walk the same walk. So for me to try and tell someone on welfare “we shouldn’t be paying you that” or someone in a desperate situation looking to have an abortion “that’s murder” is for me to do exactly what I’m asking others not to do to me. So it’s logically very clear to me- unfortunately, it takes time to beat back years of a particular way of thinking. As far as being fiscally conservative goes, I don’t think that part of me is going to change but like the article says, a Republican party that can be socially inclusive and still fiscally old-school isn’t going to exist for quite a while, which makes voting for me extremely conflicting. Though I will say, I am generally encouraged by what I’ve seen in youth and college aged Republican/Christian groups. There generally seems to be a shift in attitude and those who aren’t swayed yet ARE making the effort to understand the issues more. So I have hope for the future- we just have to figure out how to get the old money out of the party. (Sorry for the ramble btw :) )

  6. In a completely unintelligent vein…

    When I saw the photo of Jeb Bush I immediately wanted to caption it with “STOP. HAMMER TIME.”

    That is all.

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