The coming out of former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman — who led the GOP at a time when the party was backing the Federal Marriage Amendment and marriage amendments in states throughout the country — is inspiring mixed reactions among LGBT advocates as some criticize him for his past actions and others welcome his new public support.
Mehlman’s announcement about his sexual orientation officially became public in an interview published Wednesday by the Atlantic’s Marc Ambinder. According to the article, Mehlman told family and associates he’s gay and came to this conclusion fairly recently.
“It’s taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life,” Mehlman was quoted as saying. “Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I’ve told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they’ve been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that’s made me a happier and better person.”
Mehlman, who’s now an executive vice-president with the New York City-based private equity firm, KKR, was RNC chair in 2004 when a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was a cornerstone of President Bush’s re-election campaign. During Mehlman’s tenure as chair, 21 states passed constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.
Mehlman is now reportedly chairing a fundraiser against Proposition 8 for Americans for Equal Rights, the organization responsible for the federal lawsuit challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Gay blogger Mike Rogers, who had reported in 2004 that Mehlman was gay, expressed particular displeasure and demanded that the former RNC chair apologize for his past actions.
“Many gay leaders will attempt to elbow themselves to the front of the line to say on cable TV how wonderful it is that Ken is now being honest with the American people,” Rogers writes. “Perhaps you’ll read a quote in the Washington Post about how ‘every gay person is on their own personal journey and we are happy Ken has decided to be so open about his personal struggle.’ … I’ll only buy it if he is really sorry.”
A number of LGBT organizations issued statements Wednesday that were supportive Mehlman.
Chuck Wolfe, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said he was hoping to win Mehlman’s support on LGBT issues in the future.
“Coming out is a personal decision, and it can have a profound impact on families, friends, colleagues and constituents,” Wolfe said. “We hope the fact that Ken Mehlman has reached this level of honesty will now encourage other political leaders to reject divisive anti-gay campaign tactics which, as Mr. Mehlman now admits, are purely cynical attempts to manipulate the American public.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said his organization is “very supportive and appreciative of Ken’s coming out.”
“I am happy that Ken has come to a place where he can take a stand with integrity, and I welcome him as yet another conservative, common-sense voice to join with Log Cabin Republicans and all Americans in this important dialogue,” Cooper said.
Michael Mitchell, president of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Mehlman’s story demonstrates “how damaging the closet can be when one puts ideology over personal integrity.”
“Mehlman presided over the Republican Party at a time when the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans were used to ill ends — marriage amendments in dozens of states, vitriolic attacks on our families, our soldiers, over very lives — all for political expediency, votes at the ballot box, and power.”