It must be such a confusing time to be a Republican. The party's suddenly feeling new, queer, and strange urges within itself: urges that compel the fair-minded among them to embrace their LGBT countrymen and support equality. The others, the majority, meanwhile are left to baffle and retaliate. The latest example of anti-gay intransigence in the face of a changing society can be seen in Illinois, where pro-equality Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady resigned amidst pressure from the party's more homophobic members.
The internal fissions have been festering since Brady's January announcement that he supports plans to extend marriage equality in Illinois, one of the many states where such a law is gaining traction. "Giving gay and lesbian couples the freedom to get married honors the best conservative principles. It strengthens families and reinforces a key Republican value - that the law should treat all citizens equally," said Brady, the state party chairman since August of 2009.
Right-wing reaction to Brady's January proclamation was fast and furious. State Sen. Jim Oberweis and his like-minded followers in the Illinois GOP tried to vote Brady out in March but were thwarted by insufficient support among their base and the intervention of pro-equality U.S. Sen Mark Kirk.
Still, Brady's enemies would not be deterred. The Chicago Tribune reports that Oberweis and other Brady opponents reportedly pulled together a succession plan that saw Brady out by the end of May. Brady apparently decided to do it himself. The gay marriage debate, however, was not mentioned in his resignation letter. According to the AP, Brady's stepping aside to be with his wife, who's battling breast cancer, and their children.
“I’ve been going hard for six years. It’s time to move on,” he said. "It’s time to focus on my wife and our kids." Brady also reportedly declined to talk about "internal party divisions" that are written all over the wall - and not just in Illinois.
Rob Portman, the U.S. Senator from Ohio who came out for marriage equality after his own son came out, has lost support among his base. And three of the four Republican New York State Senators who voted for marriage equality are no longer in office: one decided not to face a tough election, another was defeated by a hair and another was trounced by a candidate more closely aligned to the GOP's traditionally anti-gay right. Whether or not their same-sex marriage support was key — LGBT activist groups say its not, opponents say it was — remains moot because Republican leaders too often aren't willing to risk political careers to go against the grain, even if they know it's right, and even as the United States continues moving toward accepting same-sex marriage. Do they realize that they're missing out on a growing electorate? Do they care? A devastating political future is staring them right in the face and yet they do nothing.
Portman's team at least countered their double-digit dip with a united front. “Rob’s change of heart was driven by a family issue, and clearly had nothing to do with politics or poll numbers,” his team said. If only more Republican leaders facing troublesome political landscapes were as willing to face the GOP herd and stand their ground. In the meantime, the GOP machine will keep trampling its more centrist members until they're completely demolished. But by that point it may be too late for the party to win any semblance of support among pro-equality Americans, and the rest of us will be left with a lovely lesson in political survival of the fittest.