Ken Mehlman is one of the preeminent Republican political operatives in the country. He served as the campaign manager for George W. Bush’s successful re-election campaign in 2004. Exit polling showed that “family values” was perhaps the key component in thrusting Bush ahead of John Kerry in that race.
It would have surprised a lot of those “values voters” to learn that Bush’s campaign manager was gay. That was not public knowledge at the time. After leading Bush to victory, Ken Mehlman served a two-year stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee. Three years later, in August of 2010, Mehlman revealed that he is gay, becoming perhaps the most prominent openly gay figure in the GOP.
Mehlman believes that not only is it in the best interest of the Republican Party to end its opposition to same-sex marriage, but it also fits with the conservative principles of small government the party holds dear.
“The reason I’m here today in Iowa is to stand with and to salute the excellent work of men and women who stand in favor of civil marriage because they are conservative, not in spite of being conservative,” Mehlman said. “If you think about what permitting civil marriage is about, it’s actually consistent with conservative principles.”
Mehlman spoke at a public event hosted by Iowa Republicans for Freedom at the Davis Brown Law Firm in downtown Des Moines. IRFF is an organization put together by former Republican state legislator Jeff Angelo that supports same-sex marriage.
“I’m a conservative because I believe in more freedom and I believe in less government,” Mehlman said. “I think that we are endowed by our Creator, not by politicians, not by government, not by bureaucrats, with inalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness. If you believe that, what could be more central to the pursuit of happiness than choosing the person that you love, that you have the right to marry?”
During his 11-minute speech, Ken Mehlman avoided using the terms “gay” and “same-sex”. Instead, he repeatedly referred to “civil marriage”. To make his case, Mehlman pointed out that prominent conservatives like Dick Cheney, Clint Eastwood, John Bolton and Ted Olson have also spoken in favor of same-sex marriage.
As for those “values voters” that Mehlman organized in 2004 to vote for George W. Bush, he says supporting same-sex marriage is supporting family values.
“You’re seeing it across Iowa,” Mehlman said. “It makes a society stronger. It makes it more caring. It makes it more focused on the long term. It creates stability in the lives of children across this country who are raised by two members of the same gender who are loving moms or loving dads and because of what happened in Iowa, now have stability and an ability to know that their home is more secure.”
Also speaking in favor of same-sex marriage at the event was David Kochel, who led Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign in Iowa. Kochel had not spoken publicly in favor of marriage equality until an appearance on WHO-TV’s “Insiders” program this past Sunday.
“I’ve had this position for a very long time, even longer than Barack Obama and Joe Biden,” Kochel told the crowd of 30. “I felt this way since probably before the 2000 elections and just have always been the guy in the back of the room helping candidates with their message as opposed to thinking of my own message. But I think where the Republican Party needs to go is we need to be a more modern party, we need to be a more inclusive party.”
Mehlman and Jeff Angelo met privately with Republican operatives and officials in Iowa over the past couple of days, encouraging them to end their opposition to gay marriage. With the public tide turning in favor of supporting same-sex marriage, they hope the Republican Party will do the same.
“Iowa is a better place today because of the fact that loving couples can be married,” Mehlman said. “It’s a freer place, it’s a juster (sic) place, it’s a place with stronger families, it’s a place with stronger neighborhoods, it’s a place with stronger communities.
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