Last night's second debate of the top tier GOP candidates -- as well as the earlier bottom feeeders' debate -- confirmed something so many pundits claimed would not be the case: Marriage equality and LGBT rights are 2016 campaign issues, and probably will be issues in the GOP for a long time to come.
Jeb Bush agreed with Mike Huckabee that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed for refusing to give out marriage licenses, should be provided special "accommodations" so she could opt-out of serving certain members of the public. Bush equated Davis to the florists who've refused to serve gay couples for their weddings in states where gays and lesbians are protected against discrimination in public accommodations.
This is extraordinary considering the polling that has shown the vast majority of Americans -- 63 percent in a Washington Post/ABC poll -- believe Davis should be required to give out licenses. Even some prominent religious conservative thinkers have said Davis is a disaster for their cause. The clerk issue plays out differently than the cases of bakers and florists refusing service because most Americans have less of an understanding about private businesses and anti-discrimination laws while they definitely believe a government employee, paid by taxpayer dollars, should do her job. It's a clear-cut issue of a state worker and following the rule of law.
Considering this, how laughable is it now thinking back to when some reporters early on -- based largely on anonymous sources, too afraid to publicly say Bush is supposedly secretly pro-gay -- were telling us that Jeb Bush was going to be 2016's "gay friendly Republican"?
Among the supposed proof of this was that he hired an openly gay communications director, Tim Miller -- as if having a gay spokesman makes the anti-gay rhetoric go down easier. That was back in the beginning of the year, when Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT group, gave a front page interview for the Washington Post, headlined "Has Jeb Bush Shown Republicans a New Way to Talk About Gay Marriage?" in which he slobbered all over Bush, who was once his nice neighbor and an "early mentor."
Well, last night showed us that Bush, rather than teaching the GOP how to talk about the issue in a new way, has been completely schooled by the Mike Huckabee crowd that you've still got to speak about it in the same old bigoted way in the GOP. Huckabee, distorting the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court while defending Davis, implied that he and Bush had the same position about the Kentucky clerk, and Bush refused to distance himself. While Bush made a gesture to following the law, he said:
"There should be some accommodation for her conscience, just as there should be for florists that don't want to participate in weddings or bakers," Bush said. "A great country like us should find a way to have accommodations for people so that we can solve this problem in the right way. This should be solved at the local level."
And then Bush added, regarding Huckabee, "And so we do agree... If a law needs to be changed in the state of Kentucky, which is what she's advocating, it should be changed."
None of this should be surprising, however, since Bush by spring of this year had shown what direction he was going to go -- and it was decidedly not "gay friendly," earlier reports notwithstanding. In the context of marriage equality he spoke of defending "religious liberty" -- the new code word for promoting anti-gay positions -- and has since said, as he did last night, that florists and other businesses should be exempted from serving gays even where laws protect LGBT people against such discrimination.
In the second-tier debate earlier in the night, both Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal stoked the Kim Davis issue in ridiculous and ugly ways, playing to the base and clearly viewing it as their only way to get some traction. If the issue were dead, Jeb Bush, one of the GOP establishment's great hopes, would not be putting himself in bed with these guys but would rather be standing up to their continued bigotry.
From immigration to foreign policy, the GOP, via its field of presidential candidates, has shown it is as extreme as ever. And, no matter the pundits' claims or the hopes of some gay activists, that holds true on LGBT rights as well.