Rick Perry’s long reign as governor of Texas is ending, with the announcement that he’s not running for reelection in 2014. Among other things, he’ll be remembered as one of the most vocally anti-gay governors and political figures in American history. In 2003, Perry lambasted the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down the Texas sodomy ban, and all sodomy bans in the states, calling the court “nine oligarchs in robes.” In 2005, Perry championed a draconian constitutional ban on gay marriage and civil unions in Texas, and signed it into law in a ceremony held in a church. During his 2012 presidential run he cruelly told a 14-year-old bisexual girl on the campaign trail that gays shouldn’t serve in the military because “homosexuality is a sin,” and he demeaned gay service members in a political attack ad that was the most parodied ad of the election season.
So if Perry is stepping down to focus solely on a presidential run in 2016, as some observers contend, what will that mean for GOP political gay-bashing in the 2016 presidential race? Judging from Perry’s most recent rants, 2016 will be 2012 redux, no matter what any autopsy of the 2012 election by the Republican National Committee or GOP strategists might reveal about how to proceed. Since last fall Perry has only ratcheted up the attacks on gays, much as he has done on abortion. Polls show a majority of Americans, and particularly young Americans (and that includes young GOP Americans), support LGBT rights and even marriage equality. But Christian right groups still influential in the party have been threatening to bolt the GOP unless candidates toe the line. Contrary to strategists who suggest that the GOP will be forced to be more supportive on issues of concern to Latinos, women, gays and other groups, there are thinkers in the GOP who simply want to believe the GOP can win by ignoring all those groups and just getting more straight white male voters to the polls. Greg Sargent notes this while looking in particular at immigration and Latinos:
[T]he argument that Republicans don’t really need to improve their standing much among Latinos to be competitive in national elections is gaining real ground among Republicans — posing a serious threat to immigration reform. The emerging case is that Republicans mainly need to do even better among whites — by doing a better job energizing white supporters and by bringing in more “missing” white voters who might be inclined to vote Republican — thus relieving them of the inconvenient need to alienate their base with anything that might persuade Latinos to give their party a second look.
It’s surely not a stretch to say that these same Republicans don’t believe they need to improve their standing with gays or with those who support gays either, and instead just need to speak more forcefully to the anti-gay conservative base, as Perry has been doing. In March of this year Perry warned of “unsettling times in our nation’s history,” charging that gay activists lacked “tolerance” and saying that those who oppose gay rights are the victims now, “vilified” for their beliefs. This is a new kind of hysteria we’re seeing from evangelical leaders, obviously meant to scare people into action. In early May, Perry even went so far as to compare those who oppose gay rights to those who fought against slavery in the pre-Civil War era, lashing out at gay activists who “tear apart” the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) by pushing for gay scouts to be accepted. Later in May, after the BSA voted to allow gay scouts, Perry said the BSA would have to answer to God when its leaders “stand before their maker.”
With Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), another 2016 potential presidential candidate, having suggested that legalizing marriage for gays and lesbians opens the door to polygamy and marriage to “non-humans,” and with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another 2016 hopeful, adamantly opposed to gay marriage or any laws protecting LGBT people, it so far looks like we can expect the same kind of gay-bashing in 2016 among GOP candidates that we saw in 2012. That would be extraordinary considering that the 2012 race for the GOP nomination, which included repugnant anti-gay attacks from Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich, was viewed as perhaps the most anti-gay campaign ever. But when it comes to political gay-bashing, the GOP always seems to outdo itself.