Last week we slammed the Ohio Republican Party for hiring a new executive director with a record of public corruption, but it turns out Matt Borges may have a redeeming quality: he is currently registered as a lobbyist for Equality Ohio.
Equality Ohio was founded by LGBT activists and allies in 2005 in response to the passage of a constitutional amendment that banned same sex marriage and civil unions in Ohio. Their mission is to “Advance Pro-Equality Legislation and Public Policies Throughout Ohio” and their primary strategic goal is “to achieve fair treatment and equal opportunity for all Ohioans regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”
If you’re not familiar with Equality Ohio, I recommend you check out Lauren’s post from yesterday about their lobby day for a better idea of what they do. They are a wonderful organization that promotes pro-LGBT policies and legislation in Ohio and the fact that a prominent Republican like Borges is representing them is kind of surprising, to say the least.
I’m going to give Matt the benefit of the doubt by assuming he’s at least somewhat sympathetic to the mission and goals of Equality Ohio and not a total hypocrite who represents organizations with a core philosophy diametrically opposed to his own.
And this raises some interesting questions about how LGBT rights and marriage equality are going to play out in Ohio during the course of this presidential election year.
Nationally, the candidates have chosen sides. President Obama recently said his positions have ‘evolved’ and he has come out in favor of marriage equality. But nationally, Romney and the Republicans are taking a firm stand against LGBT rights, despite polling that tells them they should be running away from the issue.
Ohio is obviously vital to Romney, and every possible scenario that puts him in the White House involves him winning in our state. So you can expect he will be campaigning here A LOT. But are Ohio’s Republican leaders ready to embrace every part of Romney’s message?
While the legislature has been busy trying to pass every anti-women bill they can dream up, we’ve seen no major pushes for anti-LBGT legislation since Kasich took office. It seems, for now anyway, that Ohio’s Republican legislative leaders have been convinced of the political benefits of not (publicly) acting like a bunch of homophobes.
It’s not clear whether this slowdown on anti-gay legislation is the result of bad polling on the issue or just really good lobbying on the part of Kasich’s high-priced lobbyist friends. Either way, it certainly hasn’t changed the way most Ohio Republicans legislators feel about LGBT issues and I’m sure most of them would rather be pursuing anti-gay legislation with the fervor they have shown for crimping down on women’s reproductive rights instead of sitting on their hands and shutting up because some pollster or lobbyist told them their position in no longer popular.
Whatever they believe as individuals, Kasich and his allies, as politicians and political operatives, aren’t stupid. They know there is a certain segment of radical Republican voters that will never vote for anyone – even a Republican – who seems soft on this issue. So there is no chance in hell you’ll see any of these guys publicly coming out in favor of LGBT rights or marriage equality.
But if the past few years are any indication, Ohio’s Republican leaders will be hiding their anti-gay rhetoric from the public, saving it for invitation-only, closed-door meetings.
The thing I find surprisingly is that this is the same strategy former Republican Party Chairman Kevin DeWine proposed in 2008, trying to lead the party away from controversial issues like marriage equality, and toward issues that help Republicans appeal to a broader, less radical audience.
DeWine’s public comments set off a shit-storm with the religious extremists in his party, and were even mentioned as a reason the Kasich-led challenge against DeWine was so important. And while Kasich and his team may be pursing exactly the same policy, I guarantee no one at the ORP will publicly admit it like DeWine did. Especially not this year, with the presidential election at stake.
With Kasich and his allies firmly in charge of the Statehouse, and with Republicans like Borges in charge of the Ohio Republican Party, the next six months are going to be pretty interesting as we watch Republicans, including Rommey and his surrogates, trying to fire up the radical anti-gay Republican base in Ohio with the help of party leadership that appears none too interested in touching the issue.
Let’s be clear here: Republicans have a horrendous history when is comes to supporting LGBT rights, and they don’t appear to be getting any better. While every single company on Fortune’s list of the top 100 companies to work for has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, Republicans around the country continue to push legislation that seeks to take away rights and protections from LGBT individuals and couples.
While the private sector and the general population continue to move in the right direction, the radical religious elements of the Republican party continue to hold them back. Republicans are on the wrong side of history when it comes to this issue. And the party leadership in Ohio seems to knows that. Their problem now is how to continue appealing to a small, homophobic, radical religious base without completely offending the rest of Ohio’s voters.
I’ll admit I don’t have any idea how they can accomplish this. But it will be really interesting to watch them try.