With a Gay Republican Candidate for Congress as the Arizona Anti-Gay Bill Was Vetoed

READING, Ma.—Later yesterday evening, reporters started getting word that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer might announced her veto of Arizona’s SB1062. Shortly before that, I happened to be at the annual Taste of Reading festival, in a high school gym north of Boston, with the man who might become the first elected openly gay Republican in Congress. Richard Tisei, a former state senator making his second run for the House, was meeting voters and setting up what he referred to as “my first frozen yogurt summit” with one of the businesses at the fest.

I asked Tisei what he thought of Arizona’s bill. He didn’t hestitate for a second.

“The governor should veto the bill,” said Tisei. “It’s heartening to see McCain and Flake and Romney come out, because the bill’s a step backwards from where we’re going as a country.”

Tisei lifted his left hand, so I could see his silver wedding band. Over the summer he’d married his partner of 20 years. “And I just had my wedding reception on Saturday night,” he said. “I didn’t have any trouble getting a cake, or a photographer. Not here. Not in Massachusetts.”

But what about the arguments for the bill? What would Tisei say to the business owners who were being sued if they didn’t serve gays?

“Why would I want a photographer to come to my wedding and take pictures if he didn’t want to do it?” asked Tisei. “There’s freedom of choice on my end. There is a public accomodation law that says they can’t just decide not to sell. They might not carry the two little grooms for the top of the cake, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll discriminate. I just think Arizona’s bill is a step back from where we’ve been going.”

A local public radio reporter, who was standing by, asked Tisei whether he backed the new Massachusetts Republican Party platform. As amended this week, 10 years after the state’s court legalized gay marriage, the platform now included a line about how “traditional marriage strengthens society.”

“I’m going to Congress,” said Tisei. “I’m not bringing the Republican platform with me. … My philosophy is that the government should get off your back, out of your wallet, and out of your bedroom. The Republican Party would be smart to have a platform that’s in sync with the values most people have.”

Tisei kept working the room, meeting a few of the Democrats who’d split their tickets to support him in 2012. I asked one of them, an 82-year-old, retired selectman named Jack Russell, about the Arizona law. 

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “I think it’ll be judged unconstitutional even if it’s not vetoed. It’s ridiculous. It’s completely discriminatory.”

I left the event at 8 p.m., just as Gov. Brewer vetoed the bill.