Meghan McCain Will Be Heard

11.2.2010

By James Kirchick

Being free of a presidential campaign's constraints has liberated McCain to speak her mind, but the true impetus for her current gay rights activism was the passage of Proposition 8 in California. On election night last November, McCain was understandably consumed with the results of the presidential race and, like many, 'assumed that Prop 8 wouldn't pass.' The next morning, however, she woke up in an already sour mood made worse by her BGF (best gay friend) Josh 'telling me that on top of everything else, Prop 8 passed.' Like many others, McCain was swept up in a collective sense of grievance, quickly concluding that making the GOP more gay-friendly would be foremost among her priorities. (For the record, Meghan isn't the only member of the McCain clan to support gay marriage. 'My mom was always for gay marriage, but I think me being so vocal about it has made her want to be more vocal about it,' she says. 'She texted me: 'Gay marriage passed in Maine!!' ')

But what so recently seemed antithetical to mainstream Republicanism has lately gained support from unlikely supporters, including former vice president Dick Cheney, who recently expressed support for gay marriage, and Theodore Olson, a lawyer who represented George W. Bush during the contested election of 2000 and who is now working to overturn Prop 8. And John McCain's former campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, told the Log Cabin Republicans that same-sex marriage was consistent with sound conservative principles. As for her father, McCain says, 'He's 73 and of a different generation. I hope someday he will come around.' But she also credits her own progressive position to her upbringing, recalling a precocious fourth-grade classmate who told her he was gay.

When McCain asked her mother what 'gay' meant, she replied 'That's how God made him, and we love everyone.'

Yet even as the balance begins to shift, the old guard is still yapping in the foreground. Shortly before McCain sat for this interview, Samuel Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber, gave an interview to Christianity Today in which he complained about 'queers' and declared, 'I wouldn't have them anywhere near my children.' Unprompted, McCain rails against the man her father's presidential campaign touted as an American everyman and made a showpiece in the weeks before the election. 'Joe the Plumber -- you can quote me -- is a dumbass. He should stick to plumbing.'

Given her youth, her lack of political experience, and that she's the daughter of the Republican politician most reviled by his fellow Republicans, it's doubtful, at least for the time being, that McCain has the ability to sway conservatives on any issue, never mind gay equality. As they did with her father, many prominent conservatives have called her conservative bona fides into question, pointing out that she only recently registered as a Republican, voted for John Kerry in 2004, and spends more time attacking Republicans than she does Democrats. And despite the battle scars she's already earned, McCain recognizes that she has yet to win over gays. 'A lot of people in the gay community are skeptical of me as a Republican,' she says, mindful of her mission to promote the idea that being Republican and supporting gay marriage are not mutually exclusive.

'Homophobia is the last socially accepted prejudice,' McCain says, repeating it for emphasis. So it's only natural that she also views the fight for gay equality as 'my generation's civil rights movement.' At a time when California can constitutionally ban gay marriage and the current presidential administration -- having vowed so much -- has yet to fulfill its promises, it's hard not to be won over by this bubbly optimist. 'In general, I don't get a good response from the conservative movement,' she admits, unfazed. 'But there are a lot of people who have said, 'I'm Republican and I'm pro'gay marriage. Thank you for showing that you don't have to be anti'gay marriage to be a Republican.' '

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