February 8, 2016 at 10:02 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
For gay Republican in N.H., Carly Fiorina ‘sealed the deal’
Joe Bowmaster, Carly Fiorina, New Hampshire primary, gay news, Washington Blade

Joe Bowmaster supports Carly Fiorina (Photo of Bowmaster courtesy Bowmaster; Photo of Fiorina by Gage Skidmore courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Although Carly Fiorina was unable to participate in the most recent Republican debate because of her low poll numbers, she has one gay supporter in New Hampshire who says she celebrated his upcoming plans for a same-sex wedding.

Joe Bowmaster, a 30-year-old Durham, N.H., resident and manager of a corporate Verizon store, said in an interview with the Washington Blade he had an interest in Fiorina from the beginning because of her business background and debating ability, but she “sealed the deal” for him at a recent campaign event in his state.

At the event, which took place less than a week after he proposed to his fiancé, Bowmaster said he got up in front of the entire room, declared his recent engagement and asked Fiorina what she would do to take the gay vote away from Hillary Clinton.

The first thing Fiorina did in response, Bowmaster said, was look him directly in the eye and congratulate him and his fiancé.

“And immediately in the entire room the crowd started cheering and clapping, and they looked at me and started saying, ‘Congratulations,'” Bowmaster said. “I’ve certainly been at Republican events in my life where you could say that question and you might be booed…but it was like a dream come true being a Republican and having the room applaud for you and congratulate you.”

Bowmaster said Fiorina continued to say if she’s elected president, the United States will be a nation of equality and free of hatred, then proceeded to “other stuff” before again wishing him congratulations.

“That sealed the deal for my vote,” Bowmaster said.

Although Fiorina is polling in the single digits just before the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, Bowmaster said he sees a path to victory for her in the state and all the way to the White House.

“We’ve seen governors drop out, we’ve seen senators drop out of this race, and yet, she’s still on the attack, she’s still the Margaret Thatcher of America, and she’s on her way up in the polls,” Bowmaster said.

Should Fiorina drop out of the race, Bowmaster said his No. 2 choice would be Donald Trump. Bowmaster said he has reservations and doesn’t believe Trump is a conservative. Nonetheless, he said his priority in a presidential candidate is “a non-politician” who could “come in and lead the country as a businessperson.”

“At the end of the day, because he was on reality TV, because he’s got name recognition, because he’s saying things breaking up the political mold, heck, I’ll give him my vote over Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” Bowmaster said. “If it comes to that, it’ll be the lesser of two evils.”

Bowmaster said he’s aware of gay people in New Hampshire who support Trump, but they’re reluctant to publicly acknowledge their support.

No stranger to politics, Bowmaster during the 2012 presidential race helped with the campaign of former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, then former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Although Bowmaster said he was “disillusioned” after those candidates dropped out of the race, he said he ultimately voted for Mitt Romney.

Bowmaster said he’s committed to conservative principles for the same reason an LGBT person would be committed to LGBT rights: It’s part of his fundamental makeup.

“Conservatism is the belief that I as an individual know how to best live my life and spend my money and that government is there to protect my most fundamental rights guaranteed to me by God and written into the Constitution,” Bowmaster said.

In 2010, Bowmaster while living in Missouri sought to stage a Tea Party event with the now defunct gay conservative group GOProud as a sponsor. As former GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia recounts in his book “No Hope,” Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) was set to keynote the event, but would only agree if GOProud’s name was removed from the list of co-sponsors. In the end, Bowmaster acceded and was no longer involved in the rally he helped set up.

“Jimmy wanted to make a bigger deal, but at the end of the day, I wanted to see the Republicans win in that election, and didn’t want one aspect of who I am to block the other 10 aspects of who I am and get the person I’m more closely aligned with those 10 aspects into office,” Bowmaster said. “And so, at the end of the day, I decided this was not the time to fight the fight.”

Now that LaSalvia has bolted the Republican Party and endorsed Clinton, Bowmaster said he disagrees with him, but still respects him for his efforts in setting up a gay conservative group.

“He was on Fox News, he was talking to big folks, heads of the party, and I think he got disillusioned with people who were leading the party,” Bowmaster said.

Fiorina has make contradictory statements on whether she would let stand the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage and has pledged to support the First Amendment Defense Act, federal religious freedom legislation seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.

Although Fiorina isn’t behind his legal right to marry, Bowmaster said he believes marriage is a state issue and, even if she were to somehow reverse the Supreme Court decision, the candidate would leave to states the ability to legalize same-sex marriage.

“We don’t live in a nation where there’s fences keeping you in your state,” Bowmaster said. “It’s the great social experiment. If you want to go and experience a right or a freedom, or a law that benefits you, there’s open borders, and you have the ability to move to a state to be part of that great experiment and see how it works.”

Asked if he thinks Fiorina would be open to signing into law a federal prohibition on anti-LGBT discrimination such as the Equality Act, Bowmaster said he thinks the candidate would support a law enabling LGBT business owners to make decisions on whom they would service.

“What I see is that she would sign a bill into law that if the Klan walked into a gay bakery, that that gay bakery would not have to make a cake for that Klan,” Bowmaster said. “I believe that she would sign a law would protect the rights of LGBT small business owners to have the right over their own business and how they perform that business.”

When the Blade pointed out such a law would in fact enable discrimination, Bowmaster said companies should be able to make decisions based on how best they see fit to run their business.

“If we let the free market work here, if they discriminate, if the gay bakers discriminate against the Ku Klux Klan, and they make word of it, I’m sure they’ll make plenty of extra business for their exclusion of the Ku Klux Klan,” Bowmaster said.

For those who would criticize him for supporting a Republican, or who believe an LGBT person should automatically support Clinton or Bernard Sanders, Bowmaster had a message: Write down everything you believe on a piece paper, then see which candidate aligns with the majority of your views.

“If they sit down and think for a moment, and just that little spark comes back, maybe I should look at somebody else, then do it,” Bowmaster said. “You don’t have to vote for them. You can do it when everyone else is out of the room. You can be pretending to look at something else…Just look at it, and see what it looks like and see if it aligns with the other values that make you up.”

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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