Ronald Reagan on Gay Rights

With the coming debate over the proposed amendment to the California Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman, I give you a California Icon in the battle for equal rights for Gays and Lesbians — Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Photo of Rep. David Dreier with President Reagan from the Village Voice

The Gipper was the first president to allow a Gay couple to spend the night in the White House and he was certainly exposed to enough gay men and women in Hollywood that he realized these people hardly deserve the discrimination they have received over the years.

HT to Hugh Schwyzer’s blog for pointing out this reference in an LA Times story last year:

 The anti-Briggs forces badly needed to win a prominent conservative supporter to their side and, against all odds, hoped it would be Reagan. They felt that the witch-hunting aspects of the initiative would offend his respect for legal institutions, and they were aware that he and his wife, Nancy, had long associated with gays in their years in Hollywood— but they worried that it would be a difficult political position for a conservative leader hoping to run for president to take.

Reagan met with initiative opponents, studied their material and, ultimately, at the risk of offending his anti-gay supporters in the coming presidential election, wrote in his newspaper column: “I don’t approve of teaching a so-called gay life style in our schools, but there is already adequate legal machinery to deal with such problems if and when they arise.”

His opposition turned public opinion around, and the measure lost with 42% of the vote.

Jonathan Rauch, a well-known advocate for gay marriage, writes that Mr. Reagan single-handedly turned the tide against the measure. Reagan gave political cover to those in the “silent majority” who might have been uncomfortable with homosexuality, but who were even more uncomfortable with outright bigotry. Three weeks after the defeat of the Briggs Initiative, Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco’s City Hall. Thus in the same month, November 1978, the GLBT movement in America won its first great victory at the ballot box, and gained its first martyr. In the first of these, there is no denying that Ronald Reagan played a crucial part. In this, he was on the right side of justice and history.

As far as Gay Marriage goes proponents of gay marriage already have the support of Ron Reagan Jr. 

 “The beginning of the Declaration of Independence says, ‘All men are created equal.’ I take those words literally<” said Reagan in 2004. “There’s no [clause stating] ‘unless you’re gay.’ I don’t see the purpose in denying people access to a right that most of us take for granted. I don’t see it as very American to carve out exceptions to our Constitution for a certain class of people.”