It was only a few short months ago that Virginia's Republican former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was running for governor of the commonwealth on a platform that included banning sodomy again. And we all know how that turned out.
Now a federal judge has ruled that gays and lesbians in Virginia must have the right to marry. And Cuccinelli's successor, Democratic Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, refused to defend the state's gay marriage ban in the case, joining the newly elected Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, in backing marriage equality.
What a difference an election makes.
Cuccinelli, a true believer who was willing to go down with his ugly cause, is surely weeping today, watching the commonwealth sink into what he and his radical-right compatriots view as degradation when in fact the state is finally on the path to joining the ranks of those states offering full equality. The news out of Virginia is also yet another sign -- like they needed another -- that the GOP must make a real effort to move into the 21st century. When RNC chairman Reince Preibus called for anti-gay Michigan GOP committeeman Dave Agema to step down last month (though Agema sloughed it off and refused to resign), it looked like maybe they were beginning to get the message.
But this week, after federal rulings partially or fully striking down marriage bans in recent months in Oklahoma, Utah and Kentucky -- red states where, in two cases (Utah and Kentucky), a Republican or Republican-appointed judge handed down the decision -- Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has decided that running against gay marriage is still a winning issue for the GOP.
Cruz, the man who brought the country and the world to the brink of economic collapse, leading the government shutdown and pushing to let the debt ceiling lapse, is reaching back to the Cuccinelli playbook. On the same day that Virginia's gay marriage ban was struck down, he introduced an anti-gay-marriage bill, and he will surely demand allegiance from the faithful among the GOP in the Senate. Of course, it proves once again the hypocrisy of the tea party, which claims to want government out of people's lives -- except when it comes to their relationships, their bodies and their private affairs.
Cruz, however, is framing his bill as a states' rights issue. It would basically bring back aspects of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court last year. It would amend U.S. law "with regard to the definition of 'marriage' and 'spouse' for Federal purposes and to ensure respect for State regulation of marriage." A bill in the House, introduced by GOP Congressman Randy Weber of Texas, similarly seeks to limit gay marriage.
Cruz's bill doesn't have a chance of getting a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate this year, but it throws the issue of gay marriage back into the political campaigns. Tea party leader Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is the only co-sponsor so far, but he and Cruz will surely be rounding up others. The tea party has been a charade from the get-go, of course, often recasting the same old extremists in a new light (shifting the focus back to cutting taxes), banding together with the anti-gay, anti-abortion zealots -- many of whom are one and the same as the tea party leaders, as we've seen with candidates of recent years like Nevada's Sharon Angle and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell, as well as Sen. Mike Lee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Cruz himself.
Cruz's effort is all part of a new strategy among religious zealots and anti-gay groups casting themselves as the victims of religious discrimination and attacks on their free speech, and Cruz and Sarah Palin used the Duck Dynasty controversy to great effect on this one. Cruz has warned that gay marriage will lead to pastors being charged with "hate speech." Anti-gay GOP forces in several states are now pushing "religious liberty" bills, like one in Kansas that the Wichita Eagle dubbed a "license to discriminate." It would allow religious-based discrimination against LGBT people, potentially limiting not just marriage but adoption, counseling and employment.
All of which means that those who thought gay marriage and attacks on LGBT rights would be a dead issue come election time, or that the GOP had finally gotten the message, were wrong. Ken Cuccinelli may have gone to the political graveyard, but his spirit lives on.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile