Despite the animosity toward gays coming from the Mormon Church -- and the millions of Mormon dollars that have gone toward fighting LGBT rights -- gays and Mormons have always had more in common than meets the eye. That was certainly noted in the gay subtext of the HBO drama "Big Love," all about a polygamous Mormon Utah family: a tiny minority seeking equality while despised by many in the larger culture, living in the closet, appearing just like everyone else on the outside.
Granted, the vast majority of Mormons today are not polygamous and the LDS church rejected polygamy over a hundred years ago. But they are still stereotyped as having an aberrant sort of "lifestyle" while most are just trying to quietly lead their lives.
It's in that way that Mitt Romney is very much like a gay Republican, or at least like some gay Republicans. I think of the right-wing gay group GOProud, which, despite the hate that comes from Christian right leaders, still panders relentlessly to the GOP and its base, bowing to extremism and ready to toss overboard other groups - like women or Muslims -- in order to get any shred of acceptance. But the acceptance never comes. GOProud even announced it would back virulently antigay Michele Bachmann if she became the GOP nominee and asked her for a meeting. She passed. Some say it's self-loathing at work. Others say it's self-interest. Whatever it is, it certainly raises the issue of integrity.
And that brings us to Mitt Romney.
He's done a stunning public turnaround on LGBT issues - as with many other issues - from claiming he was better than Ted Kennedy on gays and supporting partner rights back in the 90s (when he unsuccessfully challenged Kennedy in a Senate race) to signing a pledge written by the National Organization for Marriage this year "to appoint federal judges who don't see a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. "
But no matter how much Romney joins in the bullying of gays, he continues to get bullied himself by the same gang of thugs for being a Mormon. Romney didn't show up at the Thanksgiving Family Forum in Iowa on Saturday because he didn't want a repeat of what happened at the Values Voter Summit, where Rick Perry backer, Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress, called Mormonism a "cult" and told the media that Christians won't vote for a Mormon. Only Perry, Jeffress said, could defeat "the most pro-homosexual, most pro-abortion president in history."
Bob Vander Platts, the Iowa antigay activist and head of the Family Leader, which sponsored the forum, had said if Romney attended his Mormon faith would become an issue. So Romney stays away for fear he'll be attacked for being a Mormon. And what does he get for staying away? He gets attacked for being a Mormon anyway. Bryan Fisher, the American Family Association's bombastic and hate-inspiring radio host, sent out a tweet: "Romney, by not showing up at tonight's debate is reminding folks of the theological differences between Christians and Mormons."
The Thanksgiving forum was an opportunity for the candidates to speak to the evangelical base of the Iowa GOP and outdo each other on who could best transform the country into a Christian theocracy. (Jon Huntsman, also a Mormon, didn't attend as well; he's consistently not supported the religious right agenda and supports civil unions for gays.) Michele Bachmann said that our laws derived from the Ten Commandments. Rick Perry said, "in every person's soul, there is a hole that can only be filled by the Lord Jesus Christ." Newt Gingrich said it would "terrify" him if an atheist were elected president. Rick Santorum wept as he told a personal story -- in the service of laying out his cold-hearted plan to deny women the right to choose.
And all except for Ron Paul pledged to make gays and lesbians second-class citizens by backing a federal marriage amendment banning marriage for gays in all the states including the six where it is now legal. Romney supports that as well, and in fact now publicly supports most of the extreme positions on social issues on display on Saturday night.
Many media pundits and political analysts have said that it's Romney's flip-flopping that has Christian evangelicals suspicious of him. But that really doesn't accurately portray the Christian right base, which has always shown enormous pragmatism in backing the candidate they believe will win after they secure promises on fullfilling their agenda, even if the candidate is not a true believer.
Many in the media don't want to discuss the Mormon issue too much, perhaps fearful themselves of seeming intolerant. But as Right-Wing Watch notes, it clearly is a major factor depressing enthusiasm for Romney and allowing every other candidate to become flavor of the month in the polls. A Recent Public Religion Research Institute poll found almost half (49%) of white evangelical voters believe Mormonism isn't a Christian religion. Romney can sign all the antigay pledges in the world, but as far as the Christian right is concerned, Mormons are just about as bad as gays. And that's a problem that will plague him for the entire campaign.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile