Recently, at the Republican National Convention, Peter Thiel, one of the only openly gay speakers in the convention’s history, called the Republican Party’s treatment of LGBT issues a “distraction.”
Peter Thiel, a prominent Republican donor and Silicon Valley tech billionaire, took to the RNC stage to voice his support for Republican Nominee Donald Trump, but more importantly to criticize the so-called “culture wars” over LGBT rights that have afflicted the party’s elite. Thiel, though not the first gay speaker at the convention, was the first to openly voice his disagreement with the party’s platform on LGBT issues, citing his sexuality as reason for his ideological friction with the party.
“I am proud to be gay,” Thiel said. “I am proud to be a Republican. But…I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform.” Thiel went on to explain that the “real issues” in modern American politics were being largely ignored by the party elite in favor of cultural issues like HB-2 (North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill) and the overturn of the Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty US states.
With the race for the Republican nomination, there has been a renewed allegiance by the Republican party elite to those “planks of the platform” with which Peter Thiel disagreed. Within the Republican party, it the evolution of the stance on LGBT rights consistent with the views held by the party membership? Or have LGBT rights become just as contentious within the party as it has between the two?
Position Politics in the Presidential Race
Thiel’s speech and the policies and stances about which he spoke are hardly the first time LGBT issues have been a talking point at Republican Party events. During the series of debates that led up to Donald Trump’s ultimate nomination, the overwhelming sentiment among almost every Republican candidate was pro-family, or anti-LGBT.
LGBT rights have long been a source of contention within the Republican Party, with complaints that the Party’s pro-family platform caters more to extreme minorities than to the actual party members.
For example, the issue of the relatively recent legalization of same-sex marriage. During the past year’s Republican debates, almost every candidate vowed, at one point or another, to attempt to overturn the Supreme Court decision, to boisterous cheers from the audience. The outrage against that particular decision became a rallying point for the relatively small fraction of the Republican electorate that votes in the primary elections.
More interestingly, those few candidates who expressed that they would leave the decision as it was (notably John Kasich and, yes, Donald Trump) reversed that standpoint as the Republican National Convention drew nearer and/or when they dropped in the polls.
These candidates, rather than supporting that stance that they felt would better the country, changed their viewpoint to an anti-gay one to win over the anti-gay, often Evangelical Christian minority that is so prevalent in polls, though not in the party. These candidates changed their stance on same-sex marriage to one that does not represent the party majority, but will help them clinch the nomination of the Republican party.
As many LGBT activists had hoped, Peter Thiel did not advocate for a change in the Party’s platform, but rather voiced his disagreement without providing an alternative. Unfortunately, in only promoting a change in focus of the party, but not its stance, Thiel did not, and could not, advocate for change. This contradiction reflects much of what the Republican party membership feels at the moment.
Though the extreme right has more and more sway over the position of the Republican party as a whole, it still does not represent the overwhelming majority opinion, particularly on LGBT issues. At the Republican National Convention, Thiel’s speech was met with enthusiastic cheering, which directly contradicts so much of the anti-LGBT fervor of those party members who have swayed the position of each potential Republican nominee.
The platform no longer represents the popular opinion of party members, but has become an outdated means of encouraging those culture wars that Peter Thiel condemned, and, yes, a distraction from issues that are much more difficult to discuss.