Every Republican politician seems to have at least one gay friend these days. That's not too difficult: even if you tried, it would be hard to live and work in America without meeting at least one openly gay person you can get along with. But for a right-wing politician having gay friends, shall we say, has benefits. These unnamed, unseen gay friends send a message that an anti-gay politician isn't a hater. I mean, how can you hate your friends? It's just policy, nothing personal.
Of course, the problem is that it is personal. Having gay friends doesn't absolve one of anti-gay prejudice any more than loving one's wife and daughters absolves one of defunding Planned Parenthood. Even if you'd be happy to have gay people over to dinner, that doesn't give you a pass to deny them fundamental rights.
The "gay friends" defense is weak, but popular. And Mitt Romney, scrambling to clarify his position on equal rights after President Obama's endorsement of marriage equality, must be considering it right about now.
Romney has always been careful to stipulate that his various and elusive anti-gay policies have nothing to do with any personal anti-gay animus. This strategy was clear in a 2006 speech to the right-wing Family Research Council, recently unearthed by PFAW's Right Wing Watch. In it, taking homophobia to a whole new level, the candidate declares that "the price of same-sex marriage is paid by the children" and amazingly asserts that marriage equality is the result of "spreading secular religion and its substitute values." He then offers a spoon full a sugar with a call for an "outpouring of respect and tolerance for all people" and laughably encourages his listeners to "vigorously protest discrimination and bigotry."
When President Obama announced last week that he supports marriage equality, Romney responded by repeating his opposition to not only marriage equality but also to civil unions. He then insisted that same-sex couples have the "right" to "have a loving relationship, or even to adopt a child." The next day, he changed his mind about the adoption part. The day after that, he delivered a commencement address to Liberty University, which bans openly gay students and is allied with some of the most vile anti-gay rhetoric in the Religious Right today.
But none of this wavering matches Romney's recent, brief hiring of an openly gay staffer, foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell. A Republican adviser told the New York Times after Grenell was forced out of Romney's campaign, "It's not that the campaign cared whether Ric Grenell was gay. They believed this was a nonissue. But they didn't want to confront the religious right." Increasingly, when it comes to choosing between basic dignity and futile attempts to appease the far right, the mainstream GOP has been choosing the far right.
Unfortunately for Romney, the Religious Right, the object of his caving, isn't buying his frantic attempts to pander. The most outspoken critic of Romney's decision to hire Grenell quickly, the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, became the most outspoken critic of the decision to fire him. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer demanded.
It has to give at least some Republicans pause that the far right has become so extreme, and Republican leaders have become so subservient to their demands, that it is now not even possible to have any gay people work for a GOP campaign.
But soon Mitt Romney will tell us that he has gay friends.
Follow Michael B. Keegan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/peoplefor