Former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman came out in 2010, and earlier this year apologized for participating in the anti-gay tactics that were part of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign. Now he has launched a new non-profit, Project Right Side, to recruit conservatives to support marriage equality. He introduced the campaign in a Wall Street Journal column today:
Some misperceive the issue of marriage equality as exclusively progressive. Yet what could be more conservative than support for more freedom and less government? And what freedom is more basic than the right to marry the person you love? Smaller, less intrusive government surely includes an individual deciding whom to marry. Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster family values. [...]
Conservatives don’t need to change core convictions to embrace the growing support for equal rights for gay Americans. It is sufficient to recognize the inherent conservatism in citizens’ desire to marry, to be judged on their work, and not to be singled out for higher taxes or bullying at school. These objectives can be achieved while also protecting religious liberty, as demonstrated by states enacting civil marriage with exemptions for religious institutions.
Mehlman’s rhetoric is not new. He has been making the case for equality in “Republican terms” since he came out, supporting campaigns in states like New York and Maryland to legalize same-sex marriage. What is new is the polling Mehlman has collected as part of Project Right Side. Here are a few data points he provides from a poll conducted in battleground states on election night:
- 56 percent said they support marriage equality.
- 62 percent said that the federal government should provide benefits to same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized in their state.
- 78 percent support some form of legal recognition, through either marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships.
- 80 percent believe the Golden Rule should apply to how gays and lesbians are treated.
Any effort to unabashedly support marriage equality is welcome, but some have been critical that Mehlman’s post-coming out political maneuvering still supports anti-gay Republicans as well. In February, the Huffington Post noticed that Mehlman was still helping raise funds for House Speaker John Boehner (R), who continues to spend taxpayer money to legally defend the odious Defense of Marriage Act. Change.org similarly noted that Mehlman has supported numerous Republican candidates who blatantly oppose marriage equality. Project Right Side may effectively convince some conservatives, but hopefully it does more than just cancel out the anti-gay politicians Mehlman’s efforts help sustain.