January 10, 2012 at 5:53 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Catching up with gay locals in New Hampshire

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Chatting with gay and lesbian locals, one thing they seem to agree on is their newly won marriage rights shouldn’t factor into presidential politics.

Otherwise, customers at Manchester’s gay bars were divided over their pick for president, with some favoring President Obama and others choosing among the GOP field.

Two patrons at Element Lounge expressed their support for Obama as they enjoyed drinks with friends and others danced to local amateurs singing on karaoke night.

Alicia Appleton, a lesbian factory worker, said she plans to vote for Obama in the Democratic primary even though he’s the only serious candidate on the ticket for that party.

“If he’s on the ballot, I’ll vote for him,” Appleton said. “Obama is a person, I believe, that listens to both sides of the spectrum — whether you’re against something or for something. He sits and he listens to both sides, and then he tries to compromise what should be done about issues.”

As for what she thinks about the Republicans, Appleton said, “I don’t pay attention to the Republicans because … I believe they’re one-sided — they don’t listen to what the people have to say; they just listen to what their beliefs are. Like what they think is right and not what the people want.”

Barry Leger (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Barry Leger, 27, a personal service representative at the Catholic Medical Center, said he’s likely to cast his ballot in the Republican primary for a candidate who’s considered a tremendous long-shot: Fred Karger.

“I’m not sure if I’m even going to vote at this time, but if I were to vote, Fred Karger would get my vote because he’s the first gay Republican to be running for office, so I would stand up for that,” Leger said.

Leger said he’s never voted in a primary before, but voted for Obama in the general election in 2008 and expressed satisfaction with Obama’s performance over the last three years.

“I think he’s done the best job that he can because he was handed a lot of shit,” Leger said. “The only thing he could do in four years was put Band-Aids on it. There’s no way he could fix it in four years, but I think he’s trying to do the best he can, and I will probably vote for him again because the Republicans just have such an ancient way of thinking.”

When the general election rolls arounds in November, Leger said he’ll likely vote for Obama because he’ll want to do “anything to keep a Republican out of office.”

“I feel a lot of the Republican candidates are very hypocritical because they all talk about how there’s going to be a change and freedom for all Americans, but they say they’re trying to repeal gay marriage in states like New Hampshire,” Leger said. “As a gay American, why would I vote for somebody who stands for that?”

At The Breezeway bar a few blocks down Elm Street, another gay man said he plans to stick with Obama as he and others downed drinks while Madonna’s “Vogue” played in the background.

Bob Sheridan, a gay 57-year-old retired server, expressed similar support for Obama — saying he backed him in the 2008 Democratic primary.

“He came into a lot of shit,” Sheridan said. “His inaugural address, he was like, ‘You know it’s gonna take time.’ I knew it’s gonna take time, and a lot of people are upset that it’s taking too long. I mean, gimme a break. Everything’s starting to turn around now.”

Sheridan accused Republicans of withholding credit that Obama deserves for his accomplishments. Noting that recent numbers from the Department of Labor showed an increase of 200,000 jobs, Sheridan said the Republican response was “Well, that wasn’t because of Obama.”

“Republicans have done everything to kill Obama,” Sheridan said. “And I think a lot of Americans are naive, and they go by what they hear, and they’ve got like five, six, seven Republican candidates running for the nomination all slamming him. And I think they have a habit of just thinking what they hear and then not looking at the total picture.”

Bob Sheridan (Blade photo by Michael Key)

On gay rights, Sheridan said he’s satisfied with Obama’s accomplishments. But his view on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is a different story. A former Massachusetts resident, Sheridan sees a big change in how Romney is approaching the LGBT community today.

“He ran for governor courting the gay community, and he won,” Sheridan said. “Now he’s looking for the conservative vote, so he’s against the gay community. I mean, I’ve seen it being from Massachusetts and moving into New Hampshire. I’m like, who’s he trying to fool? The Republican conservatives? The independents? I don’t know.”

In a debate on Sunday, Romney said in response to a question that he favors “full rights” for gay people. But his campaign seemed to contradict that statement later in the week when it disavowed a 2002 Pride flier issued by Romney’s campaign that read, “All citizens deserve equal rights, regardless of their sexual preference.”

Obama doesn’t support marriage rights for gay couples, but Sheridan said he isn’t disappointed by that position because he’s lukewarm on the marriage issue.

“I don’t think there’s any need,” Sheridan said. “If there’s two guys who are really interested and want to be married, fine. Civil union, marriage, fine. I, myself, I don’t think I could ever marry another man.”

But the exception among those who are supportive of Obama was Ryan Lantagne, a gay 27-year-old bill collector. Smoking with friends outside Element Lounge, Lantagne, a Democrat, said he thinks Obama has been a failure.

“I feel he failed the country in a few ways,” Lantagne said. “I know he had a lot to handle when it came to taking over for President Bush, but I think that he didn’t do a very good job of anything. The job numbers are still down, and a lot of the country is in bad standing, so I just hope something can give and Obama wasn’t the option and is still not the option.”

Lantagne said he hasn’t decided which candidate to support and may not even vote in the primary, but said he’s leaning toward Romney.

“He’s raised a very political family,” Lantagne said. “He’s strong-willed. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got a very good outlook for the country. … It’s really tough to tell who’s going to be the most supportive candidate if elected.”

The bar patrons also weighed in on potential repeal of the state’s same-sex marriage law. The legislature is likely to vote this month on repealing the law, and the Republican supermajority may have enough votes to override Gov. John Lynch’s (D) promised veto of the measure.

Leger said he was particularly unhappy with the Republican candidates’ decision to weigh in on possible repeal of New Hampshire’s same-sex marriage law.

“Candidates like Mitt Romney and all the others who want to take it away from us,” Leger said. “I don’t understand how it affects them because they’re heterosexuals, but if two gay people marry, why does it affect them? They can’t give a straight answer.”

Romney and Rick Perry have expressed support for repealing the marriage law. The White House hasn’t commented on the repeal effort.

Sheridan said he doesn’t think there will be enough support in the state to undo the law because “there’s too many gay Republicans in New Hampshire.”

“There a lot of Republicans in New Hampshire that are for gay rights,” Sheridan said. “I have two daughters. One of them is a Republican. One of them is a Democrat. My Republican daughter believes in gay rights.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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