The LGBT community played an outsized role in Tuesday's Democratic sweep. Constituting 5 percent of the electorate in 2012, the gay community went 77 percent to 23 percent for President Obama. If you do the math, the number of LGBT voters who chose to re-elect President Obama exceeded the margin of votes separating him and Mitt Romney. That means that our community delivered the election to the President.
Eloquent commentators from Andrew Sullivan to Matt Yglesias have all seen this as part of a larger trend toward the emergence of a modern American electorate that is less white, more Hispanic, younger, and fairer than before. Their words are, as usual, worth a read.
There's more to the story, though. Both the increase in gay voting numbers and the increase in our already heavy Democratic tilt, together with a sweep of the four states voting on the freedom to marry and the elections of the openly gay candidates across the country, have a lot to say about the role of gay identity in modern politics. It is not simply, as Richard Socarides said, that today, supporting gay rights is no longer the albatross it was in the 1990s and, instead, is a banner to wear proudly. He's right, but that's too simple. Nor is it simply about gays being liberal. There are a lot of gay conservatives, but being conservative and voting Republican are two different things.
Our victories on Tuesday prove the hollowness of the gay Republican talking point that gay identity is tiny in politics. For all the talk that gay people want jobs, too, and for all the chatter about the economy being of supreme importance no matter who or how you love, the idea that our identity as gay persons does not mean that equal rights are more important to us than, say, our concerns about the debt is simply not true. Gay Republicans and gay conservatives risk irrelevance if they stick to the notion that "being gay is only a small part of who I am" and then proceed to endorse candidates who are anti-gay in the traditional sense. Being gay is who we are. It tints the way we see the world and how we interact with others. It informs our vote, as well.
We need gay Republicans. We need them to talk with fellow Republicans, to teach them that gay people are good, moral, upstanding citizens, who love their country, each other, and their children. We need them to push their party's leadership away from "legitimate rape" and away from "it's wrong on paper" to a mainstream party -- like the Tories in England -- who support the freedom to marry not in spite of their conservative principles, but because of them. But, voting for a Republican who wants to rescind their rights because gay Republicans are more concerned with other things than being gay is at once wrong -- by all accounts, Mr. Romney's tax plan and proposals for spending trillions the military did not want would add to the debt and raise taxes on the middle class -- and foolish. No one will respect them until they respect themselves.
This election showed that gay social identity is predominant in determining our political identity. If they ever hope to attract more of our community, even the conservative among us, to the Republican fold, gay Republicans should take heed, drop the canard that being gay doesn't matter, and embrace the importance of equality.
I explain exactly what I mean, AFTER THE JUMP...
Many people construct their identities on a host of social ties, from their families, religions, genders, socioeconomic status, national heritage, wants, desires, professions and professional goals, and so on. The list is endless. But, for almost everyone, there is usually one — or two or three — of their community ties that are more important than others. For some, however, the most powerful social identity is the one that is subject to hate or disccrimination from the outside world. That is, women tend to see themselves more as women voters than men see themselves as men voters, in part because historic discrimination against women forced them to organize together. The same is true for most black voters and Hispanic voters. I am not saying that there are no men who see themselves as voting to stand up for masculine ideas, whatever those are. Indeed, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that characterizes quite a few of Mr. Romney's supporters. Notably, the evidence suggests that this minority identity is less strong among Asian voters, but as seen in Tuesday's election, that is changing as well.
For many of us, being gay and subject to discrimination as gay persons defines our political identities. We may not always want it this way, but the challenges we face because others discriminate against us is an identity thrust upon us. Surveys of gay voters show lopsided skews toward liberalism in politics, but when asked how they would feel about this or that economic issue or this or that candidate in a future world where there is zero sexual orientation discrimination, suddenly our community becomes political diverse.
The identity theory of the gay Republican is different. We can talk all we want about assuming that gay Republicans are self-haters or rely on contrarian social theory that posits that some gay people say they are Republicans because they think it's pretty cool to be different from the herd. Those are caricatures of gay Republicans and only foster divisions within our community.
Instead, I think it is a matter of degree. Most gay persons see themselves as gay voters, voting for President Obama and our Democratic allies because they, not the Republicans, are protecting our rights, recognizing our equality, and actually moving the levers of government to enshrine those rights. Gay Republicans like to say that "being gay is only a small part of who" they are, that they, like everyone else, are concerned about the debt, jobs, and foreign policy. Their identities are no less thickly constituted than ours. It is just that their gayness makes up a smaller portion of that identity.
There are several explanations for this, and self-hate and contrarianism do play a role. But we cannot ignore the fact that gay people, like every other person, are subject to a multitude of community ties. Some are bound to be stronger than others because of unique facts of a person's background and goals. And, we should respect those personal journeys that are different than ours.
However, this notion of gay identity for gay Republicans is a losing idea. If it is legitimate at all, it is describing fewer and fewer members of our community. It emptiness is the reason why Sean Patrick Maloney and Tammy Baldwin, two openly gay candidates who embrace their identity, won, and why Richard Tisei and Carl DeMaio, two gay Republicans who claimed over and over that their gayness means very little to their political ideals, lost. And, I think there are three reasons why. One reason concerns politics, the second reason concerns messaging, and the third reason concerns the underlying failure of gay Republican identity.
First, the 2012 election gave us an unprecedent choice between, on the one hand, a man and party — President Obama and the Democrats — that have actually done many great things for the gay community, and, on the other hand, a man and a party — Mr. Romney and the Republicans — that want to take away our rights. Previously, our community looked to progressive candidates like Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry who either never talked about gay rights or gave half-hearted vocal support to a particularly palatable gay rights issue only to frustrate us while in office (in the case of former President Clinton).
We had the choice between the bad and the not so bad, the guy who hated us and the guy who probably didn't hate us but who couldn't talk about us because of what it would mean for his election prospects. As Mr. Socarides said, the world is different now. President Obama and the Democrats are proudly wearing their support for the freedom to marry and other gay rights causes because it will bring them votes. But, again, it's more than that. The President hasn't just spoken about his support for our community; he's done something about it, supporting the freedom to marry, stopping the Defense of Marriage Act, keeping binational couples together, giving us hospital visitation rights, supporting our service members' right to serve openly, and so on.
In a world where one candidate gets an A and the other candidate gets a D on gay rights, gay identity has to mean more to a vote than when the two candidates get a C and D. Our sexual orientation matters less when the choices are more fungible because our various identities are more fungible with respect to how the candidates represent us.
Second, gay Republican insistence on endorsing Mr. Romney was a messaging problem that damaged their credibility. That so many of us see our social identity as essential to our political identity, openly flouting that identity by endorsing a candidate so brazenly opposed to our social identity showed gay Republicans to be craven and only out for political posturing in a possible Romney administration. As it happened, Romney lost, makig the Log Cabin and GOProud endorsements irrelevant. Their role in the party could only shrink.
And, that's a shame. The Log Cabin Republicans have been strong allies in some of our most important struggles over the past few years. They challenged "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and their victory in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States most likely pushed the military and the legislative branches into faster and comprehensive action on repeal. Log Cabiners helped pass the freedom to marry in New York, working alongside the HRC and all of us who met with Democratic and Republican officials and reaching across the aisle to their contacts in the Republican party.
We need a vibrant, strong gay community in the Republican Party. Ignoring their identity to endorse a Republican who wanted to take away their social rights made them look foolish.
Third, the idea that being gay is "only a small part of who we are" is constantly in tension with gay people's lives. Our social identity is forced upon us as a political identity by those that seek to discriminate against us. That is a fact. Ignoring it only perpetuates the assumed acceptability of continuing that discrimination. Therefore, the centrality of our social identity as gay persons is not a small part of who we are as voters. It is who we are as political animals.
There is nothing inconsistent with having a robust concept of gay identity and being conservative. The only way the Republican Party will learn that is through not simply the presence of gay Republicans, but through the presence of gay Republicans for whom being gay is the most important thing in their political lives.