Bush Ebbs and Flows

Presidential contender mixed on gay issues

Lou Chibbaro Jr. Washington Blade
July 9, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

D.C. gay Republican activist Carl Schmid approached Texas Gov. George W. Bush at the Washington Hilton Hotel on June 1 during a large fundraising event for Bush's presidential campaign. Schmid said he identified himself to Bush as a gay Republican and told the leading GOP presidential contender that gay Republicans would like to work with him on gay issues "as long as we have communication with you."

"You will," Schmid quoted Bush as saying. According to Schmid, Bush added, "And I promise I will always treat you with respect, and that is what you deserve."

Schmid's exchange with Bush brought out the latest in a series of comments Bush has made on gay issues during the past several years that have fluctuated from the positive to the negative.

After taking office as Texas governor, Bush said he would veto legislation seeking to repeal the Texas State sodomy law. Two years later, he defended the right of gay Republicans to attend and set up an information booth at a Texas State GOP convention while distancing himself from stridently anti-gay party leaders who sought to ban Gays from participating in the convention.

But Bush's "negative" side on gay issues surfaced at a Texas press conference in March of this year. Bush told reporters he was "opposed to gay adoptions," adding that "children ought to be adopted in families with a woman and a man who are married." When asked about a Texas court ruling ordering the state to remove a child from the home of two men who were perceived to be gay, Bush told the same press conference, "I have no idea whether the children ought to be removed or not removed." That remark drew sharp criticism from gay activists, including gay Republicans, who said Bush appeared insensitive to the notion of the state forcibly removing children from gay parents.

In yet another remark during the same March 1999 press conference, Bush said he did not support protections for Gays in a hate crimes bill pending in the Texas legislature. The bill, named after James Byrd Jr., the Texas resident who was dragged to death from a pickup truck by men who targeted him because he was black, was not considered in the legislature. Gay activists later joined other civil rights leaders in criticizing another Bush statement that hate crimes legislation may not be needed because "all crime is hate crime." Bush said he thought existing criminal laws were sufficient to punish those who commit crimes such as the murder of James Byrd.

Less than a month later, Bush raised the hopes of many gay Republicans when he stated in a New York Times interview that qualified gay people should not be disqualified from high-level government jobs, including jobs as ambassadors. The subject of hiring Gays surfaced when the Times asked Bush if he thought the Senate should approve openly gay philanthropist James Hormel as ambassador to Luxembourg. Bush declined to comment on the Hormel appointment, saying he was not familiar with all the issues surrounding Hormel's nomination.

But Bush went on to tell the Times, "As a general statement, if someone can do a job, and a job that he's qualified for, that person ought to be allowed to do his job." Bush added that he would not disqualify Gays from other jobs "as long as they can do a good job, as long as their political agenda was the same as mine."

Although he has so far declined to meet with gay activists, including officials with Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group, Bush has met with Pat Robertson, founder of the anti-gay Christian Coalition. He told the New York Times he had a "very frank discussion" with Robertson in an effort to reach out to all factions of the Republican Party.

Officials with Log Cabin Republicans, while expressing concern over Bush's position on gay adoption and hate crimes laws, called Bush's statements on appointing Gays to high-level positions in government an important breakthrough for a leading GOP presidential candidate. In an April 9 press release, the national Log Cabin group said Bush's statement to the New York Times on gay appointments "went further on the issue of gay rights than any Republican presidential frontrunner in history during the pre-primary season."

"Governor Bush has laid the philosophical groundwork for supporting federal non-discrimination policies and legislation," said Richard Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. "Since one in three Gays voted Republican in 1998, Governor Bush clearly recognizes the importance of reaching out to the gay community early in the race."

Gay Democrats, however, take strong exception to Tafel's assessment of Bush. Andrew Barrer, an official with the National Stonewall Democratic Federation, a gay organization, notes that Bush has yet to take a position on the gay civil rights bill pending in Congress called ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Pointing to Bush's opposition to including Gays in hate crimes legislation and his opposition to gay adoption, Barrer said Bush's support on gay issues appears to be limited to polite and friendly comments about general issues that are unrelated to specific policies.

"He has not appointed openly gay people to his administration," said Barrer. "He has not come out for anything to continue the battle against AIDS. He has not come out in support for civil rights legislation for gay people." Barrer called the difference between Bush and Vice President Al Gore on gay and AIDS issues "dramatic."

Most Log Cabin officials don't dispute claims by gay Democrats that Gore and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, hold stronger positions on gay issues than Bush. But they say that Bush's positions on gay issues have yet to be fully developed and they are hopeful that Bush will strengthen his positions on gay and AIDS issues as the campaign advances.

Among those who say they will try to persuade Bush to take stronger stands on gay issues are a Lesbian and a gay man who are longtime friends of the Texas governor. Dee Mosbacher, the daughter of Robert Mosbacher, who served as U.S. Commerce Secretary under the administration of President George H.W. Bush, said she and George W. Bush were childhood friends at a time when her family and the Bush family lived in Texas. Dee Mosbacher told the gay news magazine The Advocate that she hopes to talk to presidential candidate Bush about gay civil rights and other issues.

Openly gay political consultant Charles Francis, who works in D.C., has been friends with Bush since the time his own family socialized with the Bush family in Texas going back several decades. Francis, who has been active with the Log Cabin group, has said he hopes to serve as an informal adviser to Bush on gay issues, according to Log Cabin spokesperson Kevin Ivers. Francis was among several gay Republicans who joined Schmid in attending the Bush fundraising event at the Washington Hilton.

Ivers said that from the standpoint of the Republican Party, Bush has already taken an important stand by not embracing the platform of the party's religious right faction. Ivers notes that party officials as well as the party rank and file have taken note that Bush holds a lopsided lead in the public opinion polls and in fundraising over each of the GOP presidential candidates who share the anti-gay views of the religious right. Other Republican presidential candidates who have distanced themselves from the religious right – such as former Red Cross president Elizabeth Dole and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – are also ahead of the pro-religious right candidates, Ivers points out.

"The party sees a winner in someone who sets himself or herself apart from the far right," Ivers said.