Credit: Gage Skidmore
To the casual observer, this past week would seem to be definitive proof that the Republican Party has abandoned any pretense of appealing to LGBT voters. As presidential candidates bicker over who is the most homophobic, politicians attempt to outdo each other with increasingly vitriolic comments, and polls reveal the mistrust voters have in the GOP to even remotely care about America’s gay citizens, it seems that LGBT people have been left with one choice if they want to protect and advance their rights: vote Democrat.
A new poll released this week offers an insight into the extent of the Republican Party’s problem with the LGBT community. Community Marketing & Insights asked 563 registered LGBT voters from 46 states a number of questions about the presidential candidates and their support for LGBT civil rights. Unsurprisingly, Democrats fared well.
Between Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it’s Sanders who draws the most love from LGBT voters. Asked whom would be “the most supportive of LGBT civil rights,” thirty-one percent sided with Sanders, while only twenty-five percent preferred Clinton. Thirty-seven percent believed that both would be equally supportive. However, Clinton — who has struggled to appeal to LGBT voters due to her late support of same-sex marriage and previous statements against it — could find some hope in the poll’s other results.
While voters may think Bernie is better positioned to support them, if the election had been held on the day they were asked, those polled would have thrown their support behind Clinton. Forty-eight percent favored her over Sanders, who trailed with forty-one percent.
Flip those same questions over to their Republican rivals, and a very different picture is painted. Who among the GOP’s dwindling field would best support LGBT rights as president? Seventy-three percent chose “none.” Ohio Gov. John Kasich came second, with a meager six percent believing that he would support their rights — presumably after he enthusiastically told a debate audience that he had attended a same-sex wedding, despite not supporting marriage equality.
“What is striking in this research is how little support the current group of Republican candidates have among the LGBT community in the 2016 presidential elections,” said David Paisley, senior research director at Community Marketing & Insights. “Unless something changes, the party may largely forfeit about five percent of adults in the United States to the Democrats, which can cause important swings in tight elections.”
He’s not wrong. Swing states are an important factor in presidential elections, and 2016 will be no different. Politico lists seven swing states this election cycle: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia. In these states, every vote counts — California is determinedly Democrat, Texas resolutely Republican, so parties focus on fickle swing states to woo independent and unsure voters. By ignoring LGBT people, the Republican Party is doing itself a disservice — and in the process, throwing away over one million potential votes. Even if Republicans were only trying to convert the forty-three percent of LGBT voters who identified as independents in 2012, that’s still half a million voters — or, the entire LGBT population of Florida.
The point of all this is that the current march towards an ever more conservative ideology in the Republican Party isn’t going to win them any favors from the increasingly liberal-leaning LGBT community. While Log Cabin Republicans are quick to point out that gay GOP members aren’t single issue voters, and support the party for its economic and foreign policy stances, it’s hard to argue with the actions of party members this past week.
Starting with presidential hopefuls, Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are currently locked in a battle over who will be the more homophobic nominee. Trump has previously called same-sex marriage a “dead issue,” but recently told Fox News that he would try to overturn it. “If I’m elected I would be very strong in putting certain judges on the bench that maybe could change things,” the reality star said. Confusing many, he then told the lesbian host of New England Cable News that he would move forward and “bring people together” over the issue of marriage. However, after Cruz ran commercials stating that Trump is in favor of same-sex marriage, the billionaire quickly refuted the claims.
“Lying Cruz put out a statement, ‘Trump & [Sen. Marco] Rubio are [with] Obama on gay marriage,’” he wrote on Twitter. “Cruz is the worst liar, crazy or very dishonest. Perhaps all three?”
Unfortunately for Trump, the notoriously anti-gay National Organization for Marriage doesn’t believe him. Trump’s stance isn’t anti-gay enough for them, and they’re urging voters in South Carolina to “Dump Trump.”
“When Donald Trump quit on the fight for marriage, he quit on South Carolina and over 50 million voters across the nation who cast ballots defining marriage as one man and one woman,” the organization said last week in a statement to PinkNews.
Meanwhile, Cruz has recently been boasting about another anti-gay endorsement. He wrote on his campaign’s website that he was “grateful” for the support of Mike Bickle, a pastor from International House of Prayer. Bickle has a history of homophobia, last year telling his followers that same-sex marriage was “a unique signal of the End Times.”
Senator Rubio, implicated in Cruz’s attacks as not hating marriage equality enough, has been desperately trying to prove that he is just as anti-gay as his fellow candidates. Prior to Saturday’s PBS Republican Debate, Rubio announced a new advisory board which will work on overturning marriage equality. Its ranks include a member of the anti-gay Family Research Council and an advocate for “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Rubio said the board would work at “rebuilding a vibrant culture of marriage and family.”
Eric Teetsel, Rubio’s director of faith outreach, added to that, stating, “The Supreme Court’s decisions in Windsor and Obergefell are only the most recent example of our failure as a society to understand what marriage is and why it matters. For decades, we have taken for granted the unique and necessary contributions of moms and dads in the lives of their children.”
That GOP candidates — particularly those seen as the party’s biggest stars — are more than happy to throw LGBT people under the bus for those ever-important primary votes leaves little hope for their attitudes should they ascend to the nation’s highest office. What doesn’t help is that such attitudes are seemingly rampant through all levels of the party.
Again, in just the last week, Republicans have been getting confused or confrontational when faced with LGBT issues. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence drew fire from Freedom Indiana after they released a video in which he failed to give a simple answer to whether or not LGBT people should be protected from discrimination in employment. At a recent event, Pence was asked: “Yes or no: do you believe gay and transgender people should be able to be fired from their jobs just for that reason only?”
“It’s a great privilege to be your Governor,” Pence responded, after almost ten seconds of silence. “I don’t think anyone should be discriminated against because of who they are or who they love, but my position as I expressed in the State of the State address is that we are a state with a constitution, and as you know…that constitution has very strong safeguards for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion.
“I will not support legislation that diminishes religious freedom,” he added.
“Indiana Governor Mike Pence has never been able to answer the question of whether he believes LGBT Hoosiers should be fired for who they are,” Freedom Indiana wrote in the video’s description. “Time after time, he has dodged the question of why he does not support comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT people.”
Meanwhile, in West Virginia, Del. Tom Fast decided that comparing LGBT people to pedophiles was an acceptable way to conduct a debate. Delegates were voting on an amendment to a bill to allow Uber to operate in the state. The amendment would also ban drivers from discriminating against LGBT people — something Uber’s own internal policies already prohibit. That amendment failed on Friday after Fast rallied colleagues with an impassioned speech.
“History and reason illustrates the insanity of according special civil rights protection to a person’s sexual preference,” Fast said. “Once homosexual, bisexual and transgender behavior is elevated to a protected status, there is nothing to stop bigamy, pedophilia or any other sexual practice from receiving the same protection.”
All of these statements are from within the last week or so, all from members of the Republican Party, all negatively balanced against the LGBT community. If this primary season has shown voters anything, it’s that LGBT rights are far from the minds of the GOP. It’s possible that the party will change and adapt to a nation where a majority of voters support marriage equality, but it’s unlikely to happen this election cycle.
Consider this excerpt from the website of the Log Cabin Republicans: “Log Cabin Republicans have a proud history of fighting to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party. Gay and lesbian Republicans have chosen to transform the GOP from the inside, working to overcome the forces of exclusion and intolerance.”
In a column for The Stranger last week, columnist Dan Savage took the organization to task, called them “lying, delusional, self-hating shitbags.”
“Nothing changes. Their party never changes,” Savage wrote. “All the GOP candidates for president take the same old bigoted positions. It never gets any better. But no one who writes up the efforts of Log Cabin Republicans to change their party ever thinks to examine the results. There’s never an accountability moment for the cocksucking wing of the ‘party of personal responsibility.’”