Gay Republican House Candidate Hasn't Won Fans In LGBT Community
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This year, two men could become the first Republicans who are openly gay when they're elected to Congress. One is in Massachusetts. The other is in California, and our next story focuses on him - San Diego's Carl DeMaio.
He's expected to have a real shot at unseating the Democratic incumbent, but the LGBT community isn't embracing his candidacy. Claire Trageser from member station KPBS has our report.
CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: On the night of California's June primary, Carl DeMaio prepared to make a victory speech. He hugged his partner and delivered a line referencing his sexual orientation.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CARL DEMAIO: Wow. Some in the national media think my candidacy is unique because of who my love or who I choose to spend my life with. I disagree entirely with that view.
TRAGESER: DeMaio has the full support of both the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as Speaker John Boehner, despite some recent allegations of sexual harassment. But the openly gay Republican is finding many in the LGBT community aren't cheering.
The political action committee Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund didn't endorse DeMaio, and gay rights groups like Equality California and the Human Rights Campaign endorsed DeMaio's straight opponent, Democrat Scott Peters. That's because DeMaio's record on LGBT issues is spotty according to Human Rights Campaign's Fred Sainz.
FRED SAINZ: We have no idea where he is on a whole host of issues. If elected to Congress, he would certainly be expected to champion legislation that is important to him and his community, and we've seen absolutely no evidence of the fact that he would do so.
TRAGESER: Sainz's criticism chows the fine line gay Republican candidates have to walk. LGBT groups point out that DeMaio hasn't stood up for gay rights. He also can't be too outspoken and risk upsetting socially conservative voters. Instead, DeMaio says gay rights aren't anything the government should be involved in. DeMaio declined to be interviewed for this story. Here's how he described his stance on the Fox News Channel earlier this year.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
DEMAIO: I don't think that either political party ought to be talking about social issues. I think we ought to let the individual decide those issues themselves in the context of their own faith - their own family beliefs, and get government out of it.
STAMPP CORBIN: When you talk about our civil rights as a social issue, it's personally offensive to the majority of LGBT people in America.
TRAGESER: That's Stampp Corbin, publisher of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. He also criticizes DeMaio for taking campaign donations from people who oppose marriage equality.
CORBIN: It would be bizarre if I, as an African American, took money from people who didn't support African American civil rights.
TRAGESER: But San Diego gay activist Nicole Murray Ramirez says DeMaio shouldn't have to make his sexual orientation a focus of his campaign.
NICOLE MURRAY RAMIREZ: What does he need to do - go in drag? He doesn't shrink away from discussing his support from equality and who he is and his partner.
TRAGESER: A gay candidate who doesn't talk about gay rights issues could be the future for LGBT politics - so says Stephen Engel, a politics professor at Bates College. As marriage equality spreads, he says there could be a schism in the gay political movement.
STEPHEN ENGEL: Do you then take a whole raft of issues that historically have linked gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders together, and link them together with other allies traditionally on the left? And you simply take them off the table.
TRAGESER: Engel says as wealthy gay couples gain marriage rights, they may begin voting instead according to their economic self interest.
ENGEL: Then it becomes a question of how invested are you in other - say, for example, progressive issues that have historically been linked to gay rights whether we think about women's equality issues, abortion access issues, race equality concerns.
TRAGESER: Engel says if marriage equality is no longer an issue, Democrats will need to continue to mobilize LGBT voters because in our deeply divided electorate, even just a few new LGBT republicans might tip the scales in elections to come. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.