A new candidate is rising in the polls among Republicans seeking the White House, but the presidential contender’s anti-gay views aren’t winning him friends in the LGBT community.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — who earned a reputation during his tenure in Congress as the bane of the Clinton administration — has claimed the title of new favorite son among Republicans, according to a new poll.
Public Policy Polling reports that Gingrich leads among Republican voters with 28 percentage points. Following him is former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain at 25 points and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 18 percent. Compared to a month ago, Gingrich has risen 13 points while Cain has dropped by 5 points and Romney has gone down by 4.
Cain enjoyed front-runner status a month ago, but has seen a precipitous drop in the polls after allegations emerged that he sexually harassed in the 1990s at least two women while head of the National Restaurant Association, although the candidate has denied any wrongdoing. NBC News reported that at least one of these women received a cash settlement from the organization.
Whether Gingrich will remain at the top of the pack remains to be seen. Other candidates —including Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) — have been at the top of the polls, but have since fallen, while Romney’s numbers remain relatively stable.
Jerame Davis, interim executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said Gingrich’s ascendance shows “the Republican primary field is in disarray” and “the GOP base is desperately searching for a standard bearer with little success.”
“It is preposterous to think that Gingrich, a serial philanderer and the only Speaker of the House of Representatives ever reprimanded for ethics violations, would become a nominee for president of the United States for any political party — let alone be elected president,” Davis said.
Davis added the LGBT community “should be particularly concerned about the possibility of a Gingrich presidency” because the candidate “is openly hostile toward LGBT rights.”
Speaking at a campaign event in Iowa in September, Gingrich called marriage equality “a temporary aberration that will dissipate,” according to the Des Moines Register. In the 2010 election, Gingrich reportedly contributed $150,000 of money he raised for his political group to the campaign to oust three Iowa justices who ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2009.
Gingrich has been critical of judges ruling in favor of marriage. During his speech before the 2011 Values Voter Summit in D.C., Gingrich denounced retired U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker for ruling against Proposition 8 in California, saying if judges “think that they are unchallengeable, they are inevitably corrupted.”
The former House speaker cited as an example of this corruption “one judge in California deciding he knows more than 8 million Californians about the definition of marriage.”
Vaughn’s ruling against California’s same-sex marriage ban in 2010 prompted Gingrich to call on Congress to send to the states a U.S. constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country.
“Congress now has the responsibility to act immediately to reaffirm marriage as a union of one man and one woman as our national policy,” Gingrich said at the time.
Gingrich has also been critical of Obama’s decision to drop the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court. In February, Gingrich called on the U.S. House to retaliate against Obama after the administration declared the anti-gay law was unconstitutional and suggested the president could be impeached over the decision.
“I believe the House Republicans next week should pass a resolution instructing the president to enforce the law and to obey his own constitutional oath,” Gingrich said, “and they should say if he fails to do so that they will zero out [defund] the office of attorney general and take other steps as necessary until the president agrees to do his job.”
Asked by Newsmax TV whether President Obama could be subject to articles of impeachment, Gingrich said, “Clearly it is a dereliction of duty and a violation of his constitutional oath and is something that cannot be allowed to stand.”
Gingrich holds these views even though he has a lesbian sister: Candace Gingrich. An activist with the Human Rights Campaign, she served in the 1990s as the spokesperson for the organization’s coming out project.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, maintained Gingrich has held “more nuanced” positions on LGBT issues than some may think and pointed to an interview the speaker did with the conservative American View.
“Regarding marriage, Gingrich helped author DOMA in the 1990s, but now lines up with many conservative voters in that he believes there should be some sort of relationship recognition,” Cooper said.
In the interview, Gingrich said he favors “some kind of legal rights” for LGBT people and backs hospital visitation rights, although he doesn’t know how he feels about civil unions. Cooper said Gingrich articulated similar comments on hospital rights to him personally.
“Regarding gay Americans, the former House speaker has also noted to fellow conservatives, ‘there are many good and kind and decent people who also may be homosexual’ and that ‘you live in a very narrow world if you’ve never met one,'” Cooper said. “Like many Americans, Newt Gingrich remains conflicted on these issues.”
But the biggest complaints about Gingrich from the LGBT community resulted from his role as House speaker in the late 1990s.
Elizabeth Birch, a Democratic consultant who was head of the Human Rights Campaign from 1995 to 2004, said Gingrich’s relationship with the LGBT community at that time left much to be desired.
“He was 100 percent uncooperative in moving any legislation, concepts or ideas that would advance LGBT equality during the years I was at the Human Rights Campaign,” Birch said.
Birch said HRC privately met with Gingrich and he was “courteous” in conservations, but she added “the truth is he’s one of those monolithic political blocks to advancement because he will always serve ideology over humanity.”
According to HRC, Gingrich — before he became speaker in 1995 — voted in favor of the putting in place the recently repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law and in favor of legislation to defund D.C.’s domestic partner registry.
But perhaps Gingrich’s signature anti-gay achievement was passage of DOMA, the statute that continues to prohibit federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
Birch recalled that Gingrich by virtue of his position as speaker had a significant role in the passage of the anti-gay law, which was signed by Clinton in 1996.
“Just by virtue of his station at the time, he was instrumental in having that pass very quickly and efficiently,” Birch said.
Bob Barr, the former Republican U.S. House member who sponsored the bill, and Clinton, who signed the bill into law, now say DOMA should be repealed, but Gingrich still backs the statute.
“That’s who he is,” Birch said. “He was always, always adjusting his plans, his actions and his goals to the right of the party.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated the year in which Gingrich became speaker. The Washington Blade regrets the error.