In what is surely a sign of an increasingly tolerant society, George H.W. Bush, 41st president of the United States, was an official witness at a wedding for a same-sex couple in Kennebunkport, Maine last Saturday. The newly married couple, Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen, own a general store in a neighboring town and have known the president and his wife Barbara, who have deep roots in the area, for many years. Although marriage equality was not a dominant political issue during his presidency, Bush had maintained his distance from LGBT advocates frustrated over his handling of the AIDS epidemic. This makes his support for his friend's marriage that much more moving, showing a personal evolution on an issue that has long divided American society. Further, it demonstrates that personal relationships are often the most effective method of spreading acceptance of the LGBT population, as citizens and politicians across the land are finding it difficult to justify laws that discriminate against friends and family members.
For those who associate the Bush name with George W.'s aggressive 2004 campaign in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment, H.W.'s support may come as a surprise. However, the Bush family has for many years harbored advocates for marriage equality, including both former First Lady Laura Bush and her daughter Barbara. Even Jeb Bush, a potential 2016 candidate for President, has rejected the attempt to ban marriage equality through a federal constitutional amendment, preferring the issue be left to the states.
Ultimately, the image of the elder statesmen, the oldest living Republican president, smiling alongside his happily married friends, perfectly captures how quickly marriage equality has moved to the center of American life. It will certainly undermine Republican objections that marriage equality is too radical and dangerous for the American public, for, despite his interesting taste in socks, the former president is anything but radical.