The announcement that former Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman is gay is garnering a fair amount of attention in the political world.
I suppose that’s predictable. He is, after all, the most powerful Republican ever to identify himself as gay. But my sense is that it’ll be a lot less of a big deal to conservatives than it might be to liberals like (just to choose one name at random) Frank Rich, for whom the political is also the personal. While it’s something that runs counter to the stereotype, most of the conservatives I know are largely to completely indifferent to a person’s sexual orientation. They are the kind of people who might even invite Elton John to perform at their weddings and not give a second thought to the fact that John is gay.
For my part, I knew Ken in the Bush White House and after that, when he was the campaign manager of the re-election campaign and RNC chairman. I’ve always liked him and found his counsel to be wise. He’s a person with very impressive political gifts and talents. Yet by his own account, the personal road he’s traveled has not been an easy one; rather than activists and commentators directing wrath and ridicule at him, I hope some measure of grace and understanding are accorded to him. I realize these qualities aren’t in oversupply in politics, but they should be more common than they are.
It’s fair to say, I think, that all sides in the same-sex marriage debate need to strive for greater respect and civility, for grounding this discussion in reason and empirical facts, in what advances self-government and the common good. And regardless of whether or not one agrees with Ken’s position, he will add to, rather than subtract from, the substance of the discussion. That is more than can be said for the haters.