WASHINGTON -- Republicans who support gay rights have seen their brief hopes for Rick Perry's candidacy dashed as old quotes surface, new pledges are signed and news of his forthcoming campaign events and associations emerges.
The Texas governor and leading presidential candidate briefly gave hope to the increasingly influential group of Republican LGBT advocates when he expressed his support for the rights of states to pass their own legislation governing marriage. Since then, however, he has said he would back a constitutional amendment banning the practice, while quotes from an old book surfaced in which he compared homosexuality to alcoholism. On Friday, meanwhile, Perry signed the National Organization for Marriage's pledge that would, among other things, commit him to support sending a federal marriage amendment to states upon becoming president.
The event, officially labeled a "call to action," will feature a retreat at a Texas Hill Country ranch. Among the event's hosts will be David Barton, an evangelical leader and founder of the organization WallBuilders.
Barton is most commonly known for holding revisionist historical views, specifically regarding the history of civil rights. But his incendiary stance on LGBT issues has made him an object of intense concern for both progressives who monitor right-wing figures and for Republicans who support gay rights. Most recently, when the state of New York legalized same-sex marriage, Barton argued that anti-gay groups should proverbially "scalp" the four Republican state senators who had backed the bill. He added some choice words for Ken Mehlman, the former RNC Chairman turned LGBT activist, as well.
“I want to see pro-family guys scared straight that are squishy on this issue, and if we can’t take out these four Republicans and the Majority Leader in New York, we will have opened a huge door for Melhman and his kind to come in and start rewarding these guys for going against pro-family stuff, and you just can’t let that happen," Barton said on his radio program, WallBuilders Live. "No disrespect to our Native American friends, but this is where you hang a bloody scalp over the gallery rail. You hang these four Republican scalps over the Senate rail and every other Republican senator looks up and sees those scalps and says, ‘my gosh, I’ll be hanging up there beside them if I don’t stay with this pro-family stuff.’ And that’s exactly what has to happen.”
Mehlman declined to comment on Perry's decision to attend this weekend's affair, and the Perry campaign didn't respond to a request for comment. But at least one Republican LGBT advocate expressed trepidation over Perry's association with Barton, calling his comments more anti-gay than those typical of even the most prominent social conservatives, including James Dobson and Tony Perkins.
"It is unfortunate Governor Perry decided to turn to a big government, anti-conservative position by signing the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge," said R. Clarke Cooper, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans. "This pledge is out of step with America and the general electorate the GOP needs to win the White House."
"Recent comments by David Barton about the bipartisan achievements made in advance of civil marriage equality is a devise position and not helpful for Republicans to win in 2012," Cooper added. "Achievements made by former RNC Chairman, and Log Cabin member, Ken Mehlman actually strengthen our party and bring back voters in support of the pro-economic growth agenda advanced by Republican leadership. The 2012 election cycle is an opportunity to expand the Republican victories among younger voters, centrists and independents who remain critical for winning any election... Current RNC Chairman Reince Priebus just stated today, 'We need to provide a clear and articulate alternative to Obama.' Obama can be beat, however, the Republican path to victory is compromised when gay Americans are perceived as being attacked for just being how God created them."
On a broader note, Perry's quick move from saying he supported states' rights to signing the NOM amendment underscores how difficult it is to run for president on a federalist platform. Certainly, the Republican presidential field has discussed the importance of health care or education policy being decided on the local level. But each candidate has also been pressed to detail and outline the legislative philosophy he or she would adhere to as president. And on cultural issues in particular -- abortion, gay marriage, and others -- they have consistently backed the federal government's power to institute a set of universal policies.