Gay Republican candidates leaving the closet behind in 2014

DeMaio ad.jpg

In a sign of the times, gay Republicans vying for seats in Congress are not running away from their sexual orientation this election cycle, but on it. 

In an ad published on YouTube earlier this week, Carl DeMaio — an out gay Republican who served on the San Diego City Council who is seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in California’s 52nd congressional district — featured images of himself holding hands with his partner, Johnathan Hale, during a Pride parade and waving a rainbow flag. 

“He believes in equality and diversity and is a defender of our personal freedoms,” a narrator says in an ad that describes DeMaio as a “new generation Republican.”

DeMaio is one of three out Republicans running for Congress in 2014, each of whom have done little to hide their personal lives from voters. While DeMaio’s ad, originally reported on by The Wall Street Journal, is being pegged as a historic first for the GOP, that does not seem to be the case. 

Dan Innis, another out Republican running for Congress from New Hampshire, prominently featured his husband, Doug Palardy, and children in his campaign announcement released last October. 

“I live in Portsmouth with my husband and we own a successful business downtown. And I have three great kids, and two of them are UNH Wildcats,” Innis says in the ad, with images of his husband and children displayed on screen. Innis, a businessman and dean of the College of Business and Economics at the University of New Hampshire, also mentions his husband on his website. He is seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in New Hampshire’s 1st congressional district. 

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Richard Tisei has shown no qualms about discussing his sexual orientation, having appeared on a number of cable news shows in recent weeks to discuss his bid to become the first out Republican elected to Congress. Tisei served 26 years in the Massachusetts State Legislature and is again challenging Democratic Rep. John Tierny after narrowly losing to Tierny in 2012 by 47.1 percent to 48.3 percent.

Tisei’s campaign website directly mentions his husband as well, stating, “Richard co-owns his real estate company with his longtime partner, Bernie Starr. Richard and Bernie were married in 2013 and spoil their beloved dog, Mooki, at their home in Wakefield.”

DeMaio, Innis and Tisei all have an opportunity to make history should they win their respective races. Indeed, no openly gay Republican has ever been elected to Congress, while two Republicans — former Reps. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe of Arizona — have come out while serving in Congress. 

According to Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the matter-of-fact way in which all three out Republicans running for Congress in 2014 have acknowledged their partners has been a breath of fresh air, while drawing contrast to some high-profile out Democratic candidate.

“It is curious to note that while both Sean Eldridge and Clay Aiken tiptoe around their sexual orientation, the gay GOP candidates for Congress aren’t shying away from who they are,” Angelo told Metro Weekly.

Indeed, Aiken, who announced his candidacy for North Carolina’s 2nd congressional district last week, made no mention of his sexual orientation in his campaign announcement. (His website appears to still be under construction and only allows visitors to make campaign donations.) Eldridge, who is married to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, made no mention of his husband or his advocacy work for Freedom to Marry in his campaign announcement for New York’s 19th congressional district last September. Eldridge’s marriage to Hughes is still not mentioned on his campaign website.

“These aren’t in-your-face political statements,” said Angelo, “but it is a reflection of a changing tide in the Republican Party. Being a gay Republican isn’t something to hide — in fact, it’s something to be proud of, and DeMaio, Tisei and Innis know that.”

[Image: Carl DeMaio (center) in a screenshot from his latest campaign ad.]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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