While you’re waiting for the election results to roll in tonight, you might want to forget about politics altogether—in which case you can space out to shows like Gilmore Girls or Manhunt. You can also choose from a roster of non-political yet oddly appropriate movies, such as True Lies or Groundhog Day. But if, like me, you’re nerd enough to want to continue to ponder the intricacies of the 2004 presidential campaign even as it grinds to a close, you can take a break from the exit-poll chatter with Gay Republicans, a new one-hour documentary on Trio (8 p.m. ET).
The film follows four members of the Log Cabin Republicans group, which counts its membership in the thousands, from their annual convention, which took place in the spring, up through Election Day. Along the way, the group watches as the party to which they belong moves further and further to the right on gay issues. As the Republican National Convention approaches, it becomes increasingly clear that the party is courting the evangelical vote, even if it means losing the gay vote. (According to Log Cabin’s estimate, over a million self-identified homosexuals voted for Bush in 2000.) At the Republican Convention, Bush’s unequivocal support of the Federal Marriage Amendment splits the Log Cabin Republicans down the middle.
The split is reflected in the film. Two of the four subjects—Mark Harris, a Los Angeles man who displays framed pictures of the president on his mantel alongside a bust of Reagan; and Maurice Bonamigo, a wealthy hairdresser who leads the Palm Beach chapter of the club—decide to support Bush in spite of his position on gay marriage. In Mark’s words, “I’m an American, I’m a Republican, before I’m anything.” For the other two subjects of Gay Republicans, the choice between party affiliation and civil rights is a more anguished one. Steve May is a former Arizona state senator whose heartthrob good looks serve him well during voter registration drives. A former Mormon and lifelong Republican, he struggles with the decision to endorse John Kerry, slowly gaining conviction as the documentary progresses. “I’m not a battered wife,” he tells a radio host during an interview. “I’m not running back to a guy who’s going to abuse me.” Carol Newman is a Los Angeles lawyer who married her partner, a registered Democrat, during the rush of gay marriages in Massachusetts last May. The ceremony appears in the film, and as Carol and her partner exchange vows and rings, we hear Mark’s voice in the background making the familiar slippery-slope argument against gay marriage: “Once we open Pandora’s box, where does it ever stop? What if someone wants to marry their cat because they love it?” This is familiar stuff coming from right-wing homophobes, but hearing it from the mouth of a gay person is chilling.
The film is unapologetically partisan, not above pointing up the evident self-contradictions in Mark’s and Maurice’s politics of self-loathing. The flamboyant Maurice seems to base his politics largely on sartorial issues: “President Reagan and President Bush never took their suit jackets off in the Oval Office, [out of] the respect that they had for it,” he notes before hissing sotto voce, “Carter would wear sweaters.” To Log-Cabiners who hesitate to support Bush, Maurice has some harsh, if baffling, advice: “Oh, for crying out loud, get over yourselves. Be a Republican. Be a man. Get your balls out of your purse and start wearing them like a man.” (One imagines the lesbian constituency searching their purses in vain.) When Maurice begins corresponding with Karl Rove about his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment, he creates further division within the Log Cabin community. (His Palm Beach chapter has since been expelled from the Log Cabin Republicans for refusing to hew to their decision not to endorse Bush in 2004; Maurice has nevertheless vowed to continue to work for Bush’s re-election.)
As a delegate at the Republican National Convention, when Log Cabiners have not yet voted on the endorsement issue, Carol is hopeful that Bush will reject the lure of the far right, and personally crushed when he doesn’t: “Why did you do that, Mr. President? Why did you do that to us?” Steve May, a well-spoken, thoughtful man who I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of on the national political scene, is more pragmatic in his rejection of the Bush platform: “The party has sent a very loud and clear message that we are not welcome. … In the words of Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave the Republican Party behind. The party is leaving me.” With its reliance on anecdotal evidence from only four sources, Gay Republicans isn’t the most thorough analysis of politics and sexual preference you’ll ever see, but it is a moving one.