2010 has so far been a year in which Laura Bush said that gay and lesbian couples deserve the same rights as straight couples. Megan and Cindy McCain posed for a photo campaign against Proposition 8. CPAC allowed GOProud to be a sponsor of its event, despite protests and boycott threats. Both Margaret Hoover and Grover Norquist accepted positions on that group’s board. Glenn Beck told Bill O’Reilly that marriage for gay and lesbian couples is not really a big deal to him. And of course, Ted Olson has led the legal fight to get Prop 8 overturned.
This is different. Not only did Ken Mehlman come out as a supporter of marriage equality – he came out, period.
Mehlman, who was George W. Bush’s campaign manager in 2004, and headed the Republican National Committee from 2005-2007, is now the highest-profile Republican ever to have come out as gay. In an interview published in The Atlantic late Wednesday, Mehlman said "It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life." He told writer Marc Ambinder "I wish I was where I am today 20 years ago. The process of not being able to say who I am in public life was very difficult. No one else knew this except me. My family didn't know. My friends didn't know. Anyone who watched me knew I was a guy who was clearly uncomfortable with the topic."
To many (if not most) in the LGBT community, Mehlman has an awful lot to atone for. The Advocate’s Kerry Eleveld asked him: There’s a lot of gays and lesbians and other people who are still angry about the 2004 election and the fact that that those 11 amendments were on the ballot. Is there anything that you would like to say about that in particular?
Mehlman said “Look, I have a lot of friends who ask questions and who are angry about it. I understand that folks are angry, I don’t know that you can change the past. As I’ve said, one thing I regret a lot is the fact that I wasn’t in the position I am today where I was comfortable with this part of my life, where I was able to be an advocate against that [strategy] and able to be someone who argued against it. I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.”
To that end, Mehlman is putting together a fundraiser to support the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which will include other prominent conservatives. He told Eleveld that invitations haven’t even gone out yet, but it’s already raised $750,000.
Dustin Lance Black, who is a member of AFER's board, said "Ken represents an incredible coup for the American Foundation for Equal Rights. We believe that our mission of equal rights under the law is one that should resonate with every American. As a victorious former presidential campaign manager and head of the Republican Party, Ken has the proven experience and expertise to help us communicate with people across each of the 50 states."
Mehlman’s announcement is the latest example of a major change in the political landscape between 2004 and now. Equality is more and more becoming a non-partisan issue, supported by key figures on both sides of the aisle.