As support for marriage equality has grown, even surpassing the 50-percent mark this past year, more and more public figures who previously opposed it have decided that it is now safe to "come out" for it. And, perhaps surprisingly (or not), some of those people include those who are themselves lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Yet these new supporters, who have conveniently located their moral courage just in time for their actions to be seen as courageous without actually being courageous, not only failed to support marriage equality, but they frequently, and loudly, supported legislation and candidates harmful to the LGBT community.
The question now facing our community is whether we forgive them.
Ken Mehlman was the one of the key players in devising George W. Bush's anti-gay message during the 2004 election and helped place nearly a dozen anti-gay referenda on ballots throughout the country. In 2010 Mehlman revealed the fact that he is, in fact, gay. Similarly, Kathrine Lehman was (and is) a Republican lobbyist who lobbied for the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996. She now says she "didn't think it would do much harm." Oops! Did the actions of these two individuals "do much harm"? The answer here is an unavoidable "yes."
The discrimination now enshrined in dozens of state constitutions and in the laws of the federal government has had a direct and very real impact on the daily lives of millions of gay and lesbian couples. Couples have been separated because their relationship, no matter where they may have been married, is given no consideration by our federal government. Problems crop up around every corner because gay parents cannot be sure what will happen to their children if one of them passes away. Same-sex couples live in poverty in greater numbers, yet they have only limited access to state and federal social safety net programs. For every couple separated by the "Defense of Marriage Act," every gay parent who lost custody of his child because of discrimination, and every same-sex family denied access to nutrition programs or SNAP benefits, these people -- whose moral compass points not north but rather in whichever direction the wind blows -- bear a share of the blame.
But the harm done by these people goes beyond the immediately apparent. Research has demonstrated that gay teenage suicide risk was linked to whether they lived in an accepting community. Scholars have testified in court that, by subjecting to gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to unwarranted moral disapprobation, bans on marriage equality make them more susceptible to suicide and depression. One need only think back a year to see what happens when homophobia is given legitimacy at the highest levels of government. In perpetuating anti-gay bigotry rather than fighting against it, Ken Mehlman, Kathrine Lehman, and every other person like them has the blood of dead teenagers on his or her hands.
Nevertheless, perhaps we could forgive some for the harm they've done, not because "things were different then" (we have only come as far as we have because of the people not like them), but because they have started, finally, to advocate on our behalf. Yet even the good done by their advocacy is moderated by their insistence on clinging to a party that finds Rick Santorum, the man who likened homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia ("man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be"), an acceptable candidate for president. This is the same party that has state chapters calling for the unconstitutional recriminalization of homosexuality. You can take the anti-gay Republicans out of the closet, but you can't take the anti-gay stance out of the Republican Party.
These people claim they are now advocates for the LGBT community and then turn around and endorse anti-gay politicians. Ken Mehlman, for example, recently co-chaired a fundraiser for Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner.
So, to Ken Mehlman, Kathrine Lehman, and every other public figure who has benefited from the freedom and equality that the blood, sweat, and tears of the LGBT community has gained for you while you profited from our oppression: I don't accept your apology. You do not get to cash in on bigotry and then keep your blood money when you cash out because it is no longer convenient for you. You cannot be a true advocate for the LGBT community while supporting anti-gay politicians and an anti-gay party.
Follow Noah Baron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/noahbbaron