By: Robert Jones
I think I can safely say that, in order to be truly informed and politically-conscious citizens, we must take notice of our potential first ladies’ television preferences. Entertainment Tonight agrees with me, and they recently put together an illuminating piece about Michelle Obama and Ann Romney’s fashion choices, hobbies, and favorite TV shows. Michelle Obama bravely chose the entire channel of HGTV, but Ann Romney’s choice did actually surprise me: Modern Family. Doesn’t she know that the show features a gay couple, not just as frivolous characters who flutter in and out of the occasional subplot, but as true frontrunners of the show?
Of course, the fervent journalist within me immediately thought, “How is this going to affect the campaign?” It didn’t take long for me to realize that it won’t; gay marriage is quickly becoming an almost unimportant issue. Gay rights are important to millions of people, but it’s no longer an issue in American politics that divides people like campaign finance reform or Israel and Palestine. Can you imagine what would have happened if Ann Romney said that her favorite show was about a couple who despised Israel instead of a show about two gay men?
And not only is gay marriage becoming a smaller issue; people are starting to agree more and more that gays deserve the right to get married, adopt children freely, and serve in the military. Conservative politicians like Dick Cheney and other well-known Republican figures such as Laura Bush and Meghan McCain (John McCain’s adult daughter) advocate openly for LGBT rights. These people stand with gay activists, demonstrating that equality for gays can be a conservative value. Unlike abortion and gun control, regarding which there’s a party line to which Republicans must stick if they want to get elected, some conservatives have embraced gay rights as a way to gain independent support and provide encouragement for the LGBT community. Though Democrats have long supported gay rights, as confirmed by Barack Obama officially affirming his support of gay marriage a few months ago, it’s the change in the Republican Party that interests me the most.
Republicans want to capitalize on the changing tides because independent voters can’t choose as easily between the two parties if they both have similar stances. Still, though more and more politicians from both sides support gay rights, an activist can make his or her choice relatively easily. Compare a speech from Meghan McCain at a convention of gay Republicans to a comment from Obama detailing his support for marriage:
I am concerned about the environment. I love to wear black. I think government is best when it stays out of people’s lives and business as much as possible. I love punk rock. I believe in a strong national defense. I have a tattoo. I believe government should always be efficient and accountable. I have lots of gay friends. And, yes, I am a Republican.
-Meghan McCain, April 18 2009
I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or Marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
-Pres. Barack Obama, May 9 2012
Obama sounds reasonable, thoughtful, composed, and as if he understands what needs to be done. He has a plan to legislate equality and to advocate for the LGBT community. Meghan McCain sounds like someone who supports gay rights, but only as an afterthought to the rest of her beliefs. The support is authentic, but it won’t change the policies of her party, particularly because McCain amounts to little more than a media personality. Even though both sides have become more supportive, the political preference of gay rights advocates is still extremely easy to predict.
As public opinion about gay marriage shifts more and more towards favoring equality, Republicans have finally begun to court the LGBT community. I’m sure this shift isn’t just for votes—many politicians probably have changed their minds about gay rights in the past few years based on person-to-person experiences and through interacting with voters. Perhaps some of them have even started watching Modern Family. But for many members of the LGBT community, a simple statement of support for a television show doesn’t equate to support for gay rights. When Steve Levitan heard that Ann Romney’s favorite show was Modern Family, he tweeted, “Thrilled Ann Romney says ModFam is her favorite show. We’ll offer her the role of officiant at Mitch & Cam’s wedding. As soon as it’s legal.”
That’s a guest appearance I’d love to see sometime soon.