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June 13, 2012

Same-gender marriage — Republicans know best?

Something decidedly queer is happening in the debate over same-gender marriage. For the first time in history, Republicans are joining it — as outspoken supporters.

Republican senators were instrumental in New York’s recent ratification of marriage, and party stalwarts like former Vice President Dick Cheney and the families of Sen. John McCain and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor now support same-gender unions.

The shift in public opinion toward all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights is crystalline — even among Republicans. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Prominent Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen summarizes it best in his confidential memo leaked the week President Obama announced his historic support of same-gender marriage: “Polling conducted among Republicans show that majorities of Republicans and Republican leaning voters support extending basic legal protections to gays and lesbians. These include majority Republican support for: Protecting gays and lesbians against being fired for reasons of sexual orientation; Protections against bullying and harassment; Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; Right to visit partners in hospital; Protecting partners against loss of home in case of severe medical emergencies or death; Legal protection in some form for gay couples whether it be same sex marriage or domestic partnership.”

According to the memo, the rapid rate of change toward public approval of same-gender marriage is staggering and points to accelerated ascension. National support was growing by 1 percent each year until 2010, when it then jumped to 5 percent annually with no sign of slowing. Now proponents outnumber the opposition by a 10 percent margin.

Even Kentucky Republicans get it — well, maybe not our state’s politicians, perpetually running for re-election at the expense of our civil rights, but amongst voters, we know 83 percent of Kentuckians support simple anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. They agree everyone should be afforded the opportunity to earn a living, put a roof over their heads, and have dinner at their favorite restaurant without being turned away just because of who they are. There is even now a slim majority of Kentuckians who support legal recognition of same-gender couples — 51 percent according to a 2011 poll.

With such overwhelming empirical evidence in support of LGBT Fairness, it seems implausible — at least illogical — that in most of Kentucky you can still be discriminated against if someone thinks you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Of our 138 state legislators, no more than 15 of them — less than 11 percent — are willing to support statewide Fairness legislation. And though three Kentucky teenagers took their own lives in the past year to end the incessant harassment they suffered at school, we cannot even pass a simple anti-bullying/harassment law. One teen committed suicide just a week after House Republicans voted down the measure aimed at protecting children.

So maybe it is time to have some uncomfortable conversations with our elected officials in Kentucky — Republicans and Democrats alike. I implore you to share your Pride this month by speaking out as an LGBT or allied person to your elected representatives. If you are having trouble finding the right words, never fear — the Republicans have your back! Van Lohuizen has some perfect icebreakers in his leaked memo:

“This is not about giving anyone extra protections or privileges, this is about making sure that everyone — regardless of sexual orientation — is provided the same protections against discrimination that you and I enjoy.”

“As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace. This is not about a generational shift in attitudes, this is about people changing their thinking as they recognize their friends and family members who are gay or lesbian.”

“As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.”

Same-gender marriage in America: a conservative Republican value — who knew?

Chris Hartman is director of the Fairness Campaign.