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OPINION | washingtonblade.com
A gay tribute to Gerald Ford
GOP should honor former president and end our national nightmare of treating gays like second-class citizens.
By JAMES KIRCHICK
Jan. 05, 2007
WITH THE PASSING of former President Gerald Ford last week at the age of 93, Republicans and Democrats have joined in bipartisan praise of the man who led the country through the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
President Bush praised Ford as “a man of complete integrity” whose “life was a blessing to America.” Conservative politicians, activists and journalists across the country echoed this sentiment. But in their encomiums to the late president, they have conveniently left out one important fact: in his later years, Ford was a prominent — though hardly outspoken — supporter of gay rights.
In a 2001 interview with the Detroit News, Ford said, “I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party. I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections.”
But his support for gay rights was not just a matter of strategic concern; it had a moral basis as well. “I think they ought to be treated equally. Period,” the straight-talking ex-President of firm, Midwestern-values said.
With Ford, there was none of the evasiveness that we hear from the current president, who speaks of the gay marriage issue with words like “civility” and “decency,” while supporting unreconstructed, anti-gay policies. Nor did Ford have any problem saying the word “gay,” one that President Bush has shown incredible reticence in uttering.
IN 2001, FORD joined the short-lived Republican Unity Coalition, an organization dedicated to making sexual orientation a “non-issue” in the GOP. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson served as chair of the organization, and other prominent members included John Danforth, Mary Matalin and Diane Ravitch.
Following the coverage of Ford’s passing in the mainstream media, one would have difficulty coming across any mention of his unprecedented support for gay rights. In a symposium on the web site of the leading conservative magazine National Review, not one of the nine conservative historians or journalists that the publication invited to share words on Ford mentioned this interview. Indeed, finding a conservative commentator or politician — aside, of course, from the Log Cabin Republicans — mentioning Ford’s support for gay rights has been a futile effort.
THAT A FORMER United States president would come out, essentially, in favor of gay marriage is no small thing. That he was a rock-solid Republican ought to give conservatives pause before launching into their next attack on the “homosexual agenda.”
Gerald Ford was an honest, decent man who did a great service to his country in one of its most troubled times. In his statements on gay rights, he showed a better side of the Republican Party, one we have not seen much of lately, yet Ford reminds us what the party could still become. Ford’s support for gay civil rights might have something to do with the fact that the man who saved his life from a 1975 assassination attempt in San Francisco, former Marine and Vietnam veteran Oliver Sipple, was gay.
When Ford took office in 1974, he assured the country that “our long national nightmare” — Watergate — was over. One day, when more Republicans show the same sense of fairness that Ford demonstrated, the door will be closed on our country’s long, national nightmare of treating gay people like second-class citizens.