The XX Factor

Should Republican Wives Be Criticized for Supporting Gay Marriage?

Is it possible to hold a different political opinion from that of your spouse? Apparently, a number of wives of Republican politicians think so. On Sunday, Diana Cantor, wife of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, revealed during an interview with 60 Minutes that unlike her husband, she supports marriage equality (as well as a woman’s right to choose). Then on Tuesday, Cindy McCain and her daughter, Meghan, showed their support for the gays with photographic contributions to the NOH8 gallery, a part of the campaign against California’s controversial Proposition 8.

Now, it’s well known that both Cantor and John McCain do not support gay marriage; in fact, the former has vowed to defend DOMA in court in lieu of the Obama administration. So one would think that these women deserve a tiny morsel of credit for speaking up when it might be more advantageous, both in terms of their husband’s political careers and domestic harmony, to keep silent. But Queerty, a popular LGBT issues blog, thinks they should just “shut the fuck up,” since their support must be some kind of trick:

Is this some kind of conspiracy by the Republican Party to look progressive without alienating its bigoted base? Because a few nice words from the little lady ain’t gonna cut it. It means less than nothing.

The post goes on to suggest flippantly that the “little ladies” (who, I might add, are independently successful businesswomen) should pull a Lysistrata-style refusal of sex in order to force their men folk to change their minds.

Let’s just unpack that quickly. For starters, the conspiracy bit implies that any woman willing to marry a Republican and hold a different opinion must either be a cynical operative for the Party or some kind of patsy. And even if she is sincere, her voice—prominent though it may be—“means less than nothing.” Only the men matter. Moreover, a wife’s only legitimate purpose is to mold the positions of her husband, through manipulation if necessary, since speaking for herself as an independent entity in the world isn’t a valid option.

I understand that Queerty is upset by all the hate speech spewed by Cantor, et al.—so am I. But the kind of thinking presented in this post is super sexist and, in the end, totally unproductive. For a party of which some segment believes that the wife should be absolutely submissive to her husband, these women are undoubtedly positive role models. And while it’s true that they themselves don’t vote on legislation, it does not follow that their words and actions are somehow less meaningful than their spouses’. If anything, their support of civil rights for gays is all the more powerful because it has survived the conforming pressures of marriage. Hopefully, Cantor, McCain and others like them will ignore this ill-conceived criticism and continue to speak the fuck out.