That Mehlman is gay remains one of the worst held ‘secrets’ in national politics for so long that it makes this more a note for the ‘yester-year’ column. (If I had such a thing.) Mehlman did so much harm to others for political gain while remaining closeted, and that is unconscionable. He inflicted so much pain on himself through it all, and that is truly sad. That the GOP will learn nothing from any of this is par for the course. The thing one should always know when given any role in politics is that the chance will not come twice, so use the power you have to make a difference. Mehlman failed in that mission for gay Americans, and himself.
Mehlman is the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.
Because his tenure as RNC chairman and his time at the center of the Bush political machine coincided with the Republican Party’s attempts to exploit anti-gay prejudices and cement the allegiance of social conservatives, his declaration to the world is at once a personal act and an act of political speech.
“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,” he said.
During the Rogers crusades, many news organizations made attempts to confirm rumors and stories about Mehlman’s sexuality. Republicans close to Mehlman either said they did not know, or that it did not matter, or that the question was offensive.
Mehlman once joked in public that although he was not gay, the rumors put a crimp on his social life. He admits to having misled several people who asked him directly.
He said that he plans to be an advocate for gay rights within the GOP, that he remains proud to be a Republican, and that his political identity is not defined by any one issue.
“What I will try to do is to persuade people, when I have conversations with them, that it is consistent with our party’s philosophy, whether it’s the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong committment to each other to get married.”
“I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights.”
Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and long-time friend of Mehlman, said that “it is significant that a former chairman of the Republiucan National Committe is openly gay and that he is supportive of gay marriage.” Although Gillespie himself opposes gay marriage, he pointed to party stalwarts like former Vice President Dick Cheney and strategist Mary Matalin as open advocates for gay rights who had not been drummed out of the party. He acknowledged “big generational differences in perception when it comes to gay marriage and gay rights as an agenda, and I think that is true on the Republican side.”
But, Gillespie said, he does not envision the party platform changing anytime soon.