Ronald Reagan remains an anathema among gay folk. Progressive Victory president and journalist Hans Johnson reminds readers that The Gipper – who the GOP still adore like a high school crush – wasn’t the worst Republican when it came to gay politics.
Johnson’s argument revolves around Reagan’s 1978 letter condemning the Briggs Initiative, which would have prohibited gays from teaching in California schools and other teachers from “promoting” homosexuality, whatever that means…
Reagan’s letter from 30 years ago was forthright and fair-minded. “Homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles,” he noted. “Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual’s sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child’s teachers do not really influence this.”
Conveying firsthand what he might have learned from gay friends like Rock Hudson, Reagan’s letter deploring the Briggs Initiative remains an important political artifact. By rejecting the proposal along with the innuendo, investigation, and invasions of privacy it entailed, Reagan showed that gay people’s liberty is inextricable from everyone else’s. His restrained voice spoke volumes.
It’s precisely his restrained voice that garnered him such much hate amongst the gays. Reagan remained largely silent during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He wasn’t so quiet when it came to boosting anti-gay activists like Phyllis Schlafly. Johnson notes these presidential sins, but correctly points that Reagan’s move helped liberalize California’s Republican party.
The current GOP cop, meanwhile, insists on exploiting Reagan’s image for their the Right, which has become more and more obsessed with repressing gay rights, has veered away from Reagan’s personal ideology. Consider John McCain’s comment during last week’s CNN-sponsored debates:
And when I came home, I was inspired by him, and I voted for him, and I supported him, and I was proud to be a leader in the Reagan revolution — I mean, a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, as we fought these wars together with unshakable courage and principle. And I’m prepared to follow in his tradition and in his footsteps.
We’re not sure Reagan would have approved of McCain’s since recanted gay-baiting phone call.
Mitt Romney’s no better, saying Reagan would endorse his conservative credentials: “Ronald Reagan would — is pro-life. He would also say I want to have an amendment to protect marriage.” We call bullshit on that one, Romney. If memory and record serves correctly, Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12612, which sought to reinforce the United States’ federalist roots. That order reads:
In formulating and implementing policies that have federalism implications, Executive departments and agencies shall be guided by the following fundamental federalism principles:
(a) Federalism is rooted in the knowledge that our political liberties are best assured by limiting the size and scope of the national government.
(d) The people of the States are free, subject only to restrictions in the Constitution itself or in constitutionally authorized Acts of Congress, to define the moral, political, and legal character of their lives.
We imagine Reagan would say that if a state – say, for example, Romney’s home state of Massachusetts – wanted same-sex marriage, that’s their business.
We wouldn’t expect Romney to understand such an argument, of course. He barely understands his own!