Landmark Gay Ruling May Put Bush in Bind
Francisco Chronicle, June 15, 2003
901 Mission St., San Francisco, CA 94103
By Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court will
decide within the next two weeks one of the most important cases in the
history of civil rights for lesbian and gay Americans, reigniting a battle in
the Republican Party that President Bush has delicately sought to avoid.
At issue in Lawrence and Garner vs. Texas is a state
sodomy law that strikes the most fundamental chords within the GOP and
threatens to split two party blocs pivotal to Bush’s re-election.
The case involves two gay men, John Lawrence and Tyron
Garner, who were arrested Sept. 17, 1998, in their home in Harris County,
Texas, for having consensual sex after a neighbor falsely reported a
“weapons disturbance.” Police entered their home, discovered them
“engaged in deviate sexual intercourse” and jailed them under the Texas
homosexual conduct statute.
A decision for the plaintiffs would—for the first
time—guarantee equal protection for gays and lesbians under the 14th
Amendment, much as Brown vs. Board of Education did for African Americans
nearly a half-century ago. Depending on its decision, the court could also
guarantee for lesbians and gays a constitutional right to privacy.
Gay Republicans contend that not just equality but the
decriminalization of their existence is at stake. Allied with Republican
moderates who want to reach out to socially tolerant swing voters, they
contend that the case concerns violations of core American values of privacy
and equal protection.
Wary of Gay Marriage
On the other side are those who back the Texas law based
on their religious and moral convictions. Members of these groups, which make
up a big chunk of the conservative GOP base, warn that equal protection for
sodomy is a giant step toward gay marriage—still unacceptable to most
Americans—and that no politician, including Bush, a former Texas governor,
will be allowed to abide it.
Republicans generally, and the White House specifically,
largely avoid the topic for fear of alienating either side. But that tactic
may not work when the Supreme Court issues its ruling either this Monday or
“The implications of this case are difficult to
overestimate,” said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the Log Cabin
Republicans, a gay Republican group. “It would be a grave mistake for the
White House to say in the year 2003 that laws should allow police to enter
homes of consensual adults. . . . It’s out of the mainstream, it’s a
politically losing point and would only cater to the fringe, radical-right
elements of our party.”
Ken Connor, president of the conservative Family Research
Council, insisted that if the high court rules against Texas, Republicans will
be expected to muster a vigorous defense of heterosexual marriage and
traditional family values.
“Regardless of their desires to the contrary,
Republicans will not be able to duck-and-cover on this issue,” Connor said.
“The debate will elevate to a white-hot temperature about what the role of
marriage is in society.”
If the court rules against Texas, Connor said, the
precedent will open the door to gay marriage, destroy the foundation of
heterosexual marriage and “all policy-makers at every level, from the White
House to the statehouse, will be called upon to register their views.”
‘Live And Let Live’ Has Limits
Whatever the high court decision, both sides predict it
will further inflame the fight over Bush judicial nominees, particularly to
potential Supreme Court vacancies, adding gay rights to an already explosive
“Most Americans have gotten to the point where
they’re willing to live and let live, but they’re a long way from the
point where they will accept gay marriage,” said GOP pollster Whit Ayres,
noting that former President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act
in 1996, which forbids federal recognition of gay unions. “Given that fact,
it’s dangerous for any political party to do anything that sounds like
they’re endorsing gay marriage.”
The administration has not weighed in on Lawrence and
Garner, which is not unusual. The case has been overshadowed by an imminent
University of Michigan affirmative action decision. But its potential to split
the party was made clear by the firestorm over Sen. Rick Santorum’s remarks
in late April.
The Pennsylvania Republican and member of the Senate
leadership said that a ruling favorable to gays would threaten the right of
states to prohibit bigamy, polygamy, incest and adultery, or “man on child,
man on dog or whatever the case may be.”
The comments sparked calls for Santorum’s resignation
but Bush defended him as “an inclusive man,” and Republicans rallied to
Taken to Task
Mary Matalin, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney
and a close ally of the Republican Unity Coalition, a group aiming to make the
party more inclusive of gays, went so far as to rebuke the RUC’s
condemnation of Santorum,shocking RUC officials and publicly embarrassing the
Matalin said the RUC was “parroting” Democrats,
adding that calling Santorum a bigot would be like calling “the pope a
Social conservatives raised another storm when Republican
National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot met in March with the Human Rights
Campaign, the nation’s largest gay lobbying group. Nearly a dozen top
conservative leaders later held a stormy private meeting with Racicot in which
they warned that Bush was endangering his re-election by “flirting” with
“We urged party leaders not to put President Bush’s
re-election at risk in 2004 by shrinking from the cultural wars now,” said
Gary Bauer, a former presidential candidate.
Attorney General John Ashcroft came under fire from the
other side recently when gay organizations said the Justice Department had
banned a gay pride event.
“I think right now the GOP is wrestling with how much
to accommodate homosexual activists within the party,” said Robert Knight,
director of the Culture and Family Institute, adding that social conservatives
“will react strongly to an adverse decision” in Lawrence and Garner.
Gay Republicans and social conservatives alike predict
the Bush administration will try to avoid comment on the high court’s
ruling, however it comes out.
“They are very disciplined in their message and in
their priorities, and they would probably rather avoid getting mired in this
issue, but I’m not certain they’ll be able to avoid it,” said a leading
gay Republican close to the administration.
Plying Middle Ground
So far, the administration has plied a middle course on
gay issues generally.
“The president himself has been disciplined at not
engaging in the marginalizing rhetoric of the radical right since he took
office, and he has clearly not taken the steps backward that had been
threatened by the left in the 2000 election,” said Guerriero, the Log Cabin
Guerriero noted that Bush surprised the gay and lesbian
community with his support for global AIDS funding, nondiscrimination against
gays in federal employment and his appointment of Michael Guest as ambassador
to Romania, a higher profile position than Clinton’s controversial
appointment of San Franciscan James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg.
Guerriero also cited Bush’s support of lesbians and gay
relationships in compensating victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
under the Mychael Judge Act.
But all agree the pending Supreme Court ruling and its
legal aftermath will take the gay issue to a new level.
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