By Hank Plante
Special to Calbuzz
If there’s any doubt that the tide has turned in favor of gay rights, and especially gay marriage, look no further than the list of 80 prominent Republicans who this week submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court endorsing same-sex marriage.
Heads turned in the Coachella Valley when among those signers was our own former Congresswoman Mary Bono Mack.
The reaction was swift on social media networks, from thanking her for her support to the expected, “Where was she for the 14 years she was in Congress?”
Indeed, her refusal to take a position on marriage equality became a growing issue in her political races, culminating last fall when she became testy during a TV debate when pressed on the subject by Desert Sun political reporter Erica Felci.
Bono Mack’s stunning loss to Dr. Raul Ruiz must be traced in part to her silence on the subject, particularly in light of the Valley’s changing demographics.
But times change, and as Republicans re-invent themselves for the 21st Century, they know their positions have alienated Latinos, women and gays.
For many, the Republican conversion is too little too late, but no political consultant would blame them for trying.
How else to explain Meg Whitman’s name also being on the list of gay marriage supporters?
During her campaign for governor in 2010, I asked her on-camera whether her opposition to gay marriage was, “A slap in the face to millions of LGBT Californians?”
She blanched visibly, looked embarrassed and stumbled through a half-hearted explanation of why she felt marriage was between one man and one woman. I could almost see her wistfully missing the $160 million dollars she was about to blow on the campaign.
The fact is most Republican leaders have always had gay and lesbian friends, from Ronald Reagan and Rock Hudson, to Bono Mack and her transgender stepson, Chas Bono. But many of them pretended to be more anti-gay than they were as they pitched their policies to a narrow base.
Trouble is, that base has now changed.
Polls at the national level show a clear majority of Americans now favor gay rights and same-sex marriage. And even a poll of young Evangelicals, done in 2011 by the Public Religion Research institute, shows nearly half of them supporting gay marriage (compared to only 12 percent support among Evangelicals over 65).
We live in an age where the Marriott Corporation, founded by staunchly Republican Mormons, has joined the legal fight against DOMA, the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, with Chairman Bill Marriott telling Business Insider, “We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else.”
No wonder Conservative leader Newt Gingrich told an interviewer, “Gay marriage will be legal. Period.”
That’s the message that Republicans have now received, as they scramble is on to be on the right side of history.
Hank Plante, of Palm Springs, is an Emmy and Peabody-winning journalist who has spent three decades covering California issues for the CBS TV stations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. He is the Calbuzz Palm Springs Bureau Chief. This piece ran originally in the Palm Springs Desert Sun.
For an update on Californians’ attitudes about gay marriage — now 2-to-1 in favor — see the Field Poll released today.