It's not every day that I say something positive about George W. Bush. In fact, I can't remember the last time I said anything nice about him. But today I have to give him a tiny bit of credit for being ahead of the Republican Party when it comes to LGBT rights.
Let me explain: I was recently cleaning out my house and, as a super distractable person, started reading through the various papers and mementos I found. One in particular--the outline of a speech I gave about same-sex marriage back in 2004 when I was in the eighth grade--stood out. The speech itself was standard fare explaining that sexual orientation is not a choice and that religious prejudice should not influence the law. But then there was a line about the commander-in-chief's view: Bush supports civil unions.
Wait, what!?! The guy who started the War in Iraq, supported prayer in public schools, questioned whether humans caused global warming, and lead our country into the last recession was actually in favor of recognizing same-sex unions?
What's sad is that this illustrates how the Republican Party has increasingly resisted civil rights during the past eight years. Though Bush's position ultimately suggested that LGBT people are second-class citizens, it was progressive for Republicans back in 2004. It was a typical view for Democrats of the time, too, as John Kerry and, four years later, Barack Obama ran for president favoring civil unions while opposing marriage equality.
Then we have Mitt Romney and the Republican Party of 2012. This year's Republican Platform celebrates the Republicans who "took the lead in...affirming the right of States and the federal government not to recognize same-sex relationships recognized in other jurisdictions." Romney has stated that he is not only opposed to marriage equality, but also to civil unions or other arrangements that give same-sex couples equal rights, if not the name marriage itself. Like Bush in 2004, Romney favors an amendment to the U.S. constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman. (He is okay with strictly limited rights, such as hospital visitation, for same-sex couples.)
This all takes place in the context of a society that embraces LGBT people more than ever before. While just over 20 percent of the population supported same-sex marriage back in 2004, about half the population does today. When you add the people who are against marriage equality but for civil unions, three-quarters of the population favors recognizing same-sex relationships.
The fact that we are in 2012, a year that is both favorable to LGBT rights and in which the economy is a major campaign issue, makes Romney's anti-gay positions especially puzzling. From an economic perspective, one way to help people get jobs would be to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (which Romney opposes) to ban employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. For those who are working, the extra taxes same-sex couples must pay because they are not married takes a toll on their families' bottom lines and may affect their ability to contribute to the economy. If that doesn't resonate, perhaps Romney and the Republican Party can agree that LGBT people should be able to protect assets, such as a family home, through marriage so that if one partner dies, the other is not forced out of the home due to hefty inheritance taxes.
It is unfortunate that many in today's Republican Party have drank so much far-right Kool Aid that they cannot see the value of equal protection under the law for a class of people who are marginalized for being true to themselves. Even if Mitt Romney, like George W. Bush, believes that marriage is a sacred religious institution, why can't he, like Bush, see that civil unions are not sacred to any religion? Having the leaders of both major political parties support the recognition and equal legal treatment of same-sex couples would set an important precedent and bring us closer to equality.
Romney's anti-gay record is something that has me concerned about the prospect of a Romney presidency, especially compared to Obama's good record on LGBT rights. Romney can put on a smile and say he believes that everyone deserves to be treated fairly, but when he talks about the LGBT population, he not only promotes inequality, but a more oppressive plan than the previous Republican administration. And if he--or anyone else--tries to downplay this bigotry?
I know binders full of queer people and allies who know what moving backwards looks like when they see it.