By Patrick Guerriero and Gregory Wright
The Republican Party’s roots run deep in Michigan. Founded 150 years ago at a meeting in Jackson, Michigan, party founders placed an emphasis on “free speech” and “free men.” The GOP has a proud history of standing up for freedom and opportunity for all Americans, including support for the abolition of slavery in the 1800s along with supporting women’s suffrage and racial equality in the 1900s. Unfortunately, at the dawn of this new century, too many in the party are turning their backs on history and fighting against equality for one segment of society. Gay and lesbian people deserve basic fairness and equality. It’s morally and politically the right thing to do.
The fight to provide basic fairness for gay and lesbian Americans is truly a conservative one. What is more conservative than protecting hard workers and fighting violent crime? What is more conservative than putting our families first and taking on the responsibility of caring for a life partner so taxpayers don’t have to? What is more conservative than seeking to serve openly and honestly in our military to help win the war against terror and oppression? What is more conservative than seeking to worship God as people of faith in churches, mosques, and synagogues?
The great conservative icon Ronald Reagan understood that gay people deserve to be treated with basic fairness and common decency. In 1978, California State Sen. John Briggs proposed a statewide ballot initiative to prevent gay and lesbian people from teaching in public schools. His vicious campaign to “defend your children from homosexual teachers” seemed headed for victory until Reagan announced his opposition and helped defeat the initiative. From this pivotal campaign, Log Cabin Republicans were born. Log Cabin is the nation’s largest organization of Republicans who support fairness, freedom, and equality for gay and lesbian Americans.
The misleading rhetoric used in California 27 years ago is eerily reminiscent to the voices of some leaders in today’s Republican Party. Here in Michigan, Republican State Representative Jack Hoogendyk of Kalamazoo has consistently fought against basic fairness for gays and lesbians. He’s trying to make sure gay and lesbian families are denied health care benefits and other basic protections. Although voters last year approved a constitutional amendment to ban civil marriage equality, most Michiganians didn’t intend for their votes to marginalize gay and lesbian families. According to a poll from the Detroit Free Press, the majority of Michigan citizens support gays and lesbians having the legal protections that come with marriage or civil unions. Unfortunately, some Michigan Republicans are trying to use this amendment as a way of taking away health care benefits for some state and local government employees. The issue will end up being decided in a courtroom, but for now thousands of families in this state are worried about losing affordable health care and other important protections.
Fortunately, some Michigan Republicans are standing up for basic fairness. Inclusive Republican State Representative Lorence Wenke from Kalamazoo/Calhoun counties last year warned that this amendment might deny important protections to gay and lesbian families. He stated, “This amendment will prevent same sex couples from forming a legal union and therefore deny them the same benefits granted to their heterosexual counterparts.” GOP State Representative Leon Drolet of Macomb County joined with Wenke in opposing the amendment because, as he said, “I saw it hurting a large group of people in Michigan.”
In the 19th century, the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, built our party on a foundation of equality. In the 20th century, President Ronald Reagan strengthened that foundation with a hopeful vision of freedom for all people. Now at the dawn of the 21st century, GOP leaders must either embrace those values and create a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party or choose the politics of division and fear that will only lead to defeat. Michigan’s native son, President Gerald Ford, effectively sums up the choice facing the GOP, “I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party. I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections.”