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Why No Mention of 'Gay' in the Debates Is Great

10/16/2012 05:21 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

Two down and two to go. We saw a weary Obama and a glimpse of an intelligible Romney in the first presidential debate, and in the vice presidential debate we saw a firecracker Biden and inspiration for dinner-table gossip in Ryan's disturbing hair. (I'm pretty sure Ryan's hair could alone cause global warming.) What we didn't see in either of the first two debates, though, was any mention of gay marriage, or of any LGBT issues, for that matter. Was this deliberate or indicative of a larger shift in public opinion and political platforms?

It's not that Romney's camp slipped the moderators a couple of crispy Ben Franklins to avoid the topic, or that everyone suddenly decided that issues like national security, the economy or the environment were more worthy topics. It may finally be the case that "gay" has turned a corner and is no longer the wedge issue it once was, or that we may at least be close to seeing both sides of the aisle realize that they need to accept what the majority of the country already accepts. The campaign climate is presently in an uncomfortable purgatory, with social conservatives finally realizing that they need to be gay-friendlier to get elected.

We've come a long way from Reagan's "gay disease" discourse. In fact, an incredible amount of progress has been made just in the past four years. Obama had to play mild homophobe in the 2008 election in order to be a contender at a time when Republicans had their right-wing feet firmly planted in the if-gays-marry-so-will-ducks-and-geese-and-chicks-in-a-scurry sand. Only in the past few months did the president take a more public stance in support of same-sex marriage, and polls have shown that his move was tactical and even necessary, as the majority of the country is now in favor of allowing gays to tie the knot. Republicans may not be whispering their support of same-sex marriage yet, but it may not be as far away as we think.

The lack of any mention of LGBT issues in this election cycle's debates may indicate that the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage may no longer create a balanced division (that is, a worthy talking point to distinguish one party from the other). In fact, the only demographic where the majority of folks still believe that marriage is only permissible between a man and a woman is the 65-and-over crowd. Romney's camp knows that they need to move toward the center on the issue if they're to have a fighting chance with anyone who doesn't have an AARP membership. Perhaps Romney's faux pas with a gay veteran in New Hampshire served as food for thought.

Republicans, who have only injected social issues into their platforms since the Reagan years, are slowly realizing the need to shift with the changing ideologies. It's no longer as cool as it once was to hate gays.

Of course, we're still light years away from achieving equal rights, and it's true that the present silence on the issue may even prove detrimental; we wouldn't want to breed an if-we-don't-talk-about-it-then-maybe-this-has-been-resolved mentality. Nevertheless, the lack of any mention of LGBT issues in the debates may be a positive step in the right direction. The 2016 election cycle might be a time when both parties must accept LGBT equality as a platform in order to be electable. If we're lucky, one day we may even see people supporting equal rights for gay people simply because it's the right thing to do. For now, I'll take acceptance in the form of pressure from public opinion polls.