Metro Weekly

Gay Republicans react to last night’s debate

Log Cabin Republicans point to first GOP debate as example of how LGBT landscape has changed

Ohio Gov. John Kasich said during the debate that he had attended a same-sex wedding even though he personally opposed legalizing marriage equality. (Credit: Office of Ohio Governor John Kasich, via Wikimedia Commons.)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich said during the debate that he had attended a same-sex wedding even though he personally opposed legalizing marriage equality. (Credit: Office of Ohio Governor John Kasich, via Wikimedia Commons.)

For many LGBT Republicans, Ohio Gov. John Kasich momentarily stole the spotlight during last night’s debate. Not only for a response regarding same-sex marriage, but also because of the audience’s overwhelmingly positive reaction to Kasich’s speech.

FOX News host and debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked Kasich what he would tell his children about his support of traditional marriage if one of them was gay. Kasich then revealed that, even though he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize marriage equality, he would uphold it — adding that he had recently attended a same-sex wedding. 

“[Just] because somebody doesn’t think they way I do, doesn’t mean I can’t care about them or I can’t love them,” Kasich said to cheers and roars of support from the crowd inside the arena. “So, if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them, and I would accept them. …we need to give everybody a chance, treat everybody with respect, and let them share in this great American dream that we have.”

To Chris Allen, president of the D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), the crowd’s reaction was a stark contrast from just four years earlier, when, during another Republican primary debate, a gay soldier asking a question of the candidates was booed.

“Everyone talks about how slow our party is on adapting to LGBT issues,” Allen says. “But really, it’s amazing how fast it’s been from just four years ago.”

He believes that the work that Log Cabin has been doing to foster an atmosphere of respect for LGBT people is being embraced by the larger party, especially in light of the RNC rejecting two anti-gay resolutions offered at its spring meeting this week. For Washington, D.C.’s GOP in particular, where the chairman, national committeeman, and national committeewoman are all LGBT and members of D.C.’s Log Cabin chapter, Allen sees their efforts paying off.

Gregory T. Angelo, the national executive director of LCR, who was in attendance at the debate, says the crowd’s reaction to Kasich’s answer was so overwhelming that he “could not hear the entirety of what he said.” Angelo says there is a stark contrast between the 2011 debate where the gay soldier was booed, and last night, where “a mere four years later, the crowd blew the roof off of the Quicken Loans Arena.”

“It was nothing short of magic,” Angelo says of the difference in how the crowd reacted when LGBT issues were addressed.

He also notes that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee hedged on his opposition to same-sex marriage when asked about it by Kelly.

“The only time the Federal Marriage Amendment was mentioned, Mike Huckabee sidestepped the question and went to abortion, an issue that has far more salience among Republicans right now,” Angelo says. Prior to the debate, LCR had issued a press release on LGBT issues that might arise during the debate, one of which was the issue of a Federal Marriage Amendment.

Regarding the overall debate, Angelo says he felt that some of the candidates who had not performed as well in pre-debate polls gained the most ground, as they “gambled the most and reaped the greatest benefits” from their debate appearances. He also says that the Republican candidates largely share the same views on a number of issues, so their differing or more nuanced views on social issues may provide an opportunity to distinguish themselves from each other.

“At this point, every Republican can safely assume that all the candidates don’t like Obamacare, don’t like the Iran deal, and want to eliminate ISIS,” Angelo says. “Social issues, while not the defining issue, could be a way voters end up choosing their candidate.”

Angelo adds that, from reactions he has seen from his fellow Republicans, there is an “unbelievable amount of enthusiasm” for the 2016 field of candidates.

That sentiment is being echoed by other gay Republicans who watched the debate.

“I thought it was a good start to the election season,” says Evan Ross, vice president of D.C. Log Cabin, speaking for himself and not on behalf of the organization. “We had a healthy, lively debate on all the issues.”

While Ross is hard-pressed to choose a clear winner, he says that he and some of his fellow debate watchers felt that some candidates had performed very well in the debate, namely former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Kasich.

“Huckabee didn’t really touch on same-sex marriage, which might be a telltale sign that he knows it’s a losing issue,” Ross adds, echoing Angelo’s comments about Huckabee appearing to sidestep the issue when asked.

Overall, though, Ross, says he was impressed with the tone and substance of the debate.

“I liked what I heard, and I’m looking forward to hearing more,” he says.

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