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May 18, 2007
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Volume 35
Issue 20
 
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Giuliani's tent vs. Romney's stool
by Chris Crain - SGN Contributing Writer

Rudy Giuliani has finally come out of the closet. After weeks of campaigning by constantly changing the subject to 9/11, "America's mayor" decided last weekend to address head-on how out of step he is with the party on social issues.

In a speech last Friday at Houston Baptist College, Giuliani made his case for a new GOP that focuses more on fighting terrorism and growing the economy, and less on fighting other Americans on guns, God and Gays. He won a standing ovation from the conservative crowd by arguing, much as John Kerry did to Democrats four years ago, that terrorism and the economy are not only more important; they will decide who wins the White House.

"If we don't find a way of uniting around broad principles that will appeal to a large segment of this country, if we can't figure that out, we are going to lose this election," Giuliani said.

His willingness to look conservatives in the eye and tell them they're wrong might just position Giuliani as the "straight talk" candidate in this year's Republican race. He was certainly more tactful than his party's previous straight talker, John McCain, who in 2000 famously called Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance."

That choice phrasing cost McCain the South Carolina primary and a shot at the nomination, and the Arizona senator has since bent over so far backward to win back the right that he has alienated those who respected him before.

On Gay issues, Giuliani told the Houston Baptist audience that he has consistently believed that marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals, but he was equally committed to protecting the rights of Gay Americans, including extending legal recognition to Gay couples through "domestic partnerships."

That doesn't exactly represent Giuliani talking straight. In the past, he has said he favors "civil unions," which as enacted in Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey (and soon to be New Hampshire) include all the rights and benefits of marriage except the name. "Domestic partnerships" presumably include fewer rights, though in reality they run the gamut from simply health insurance benefits and hospital visitation in some jurisdictions, to something very close to civil unions as adopted in places like California, Oregon and the District of Columbia.

Of course any attempt by Giuliani to cast himself as a defender of traditional marriage is itself downright laughable. To borrow Elizabeth Birch's famous question on CNN to Bob Barr, the sponsor of the infamous Defense of Marriage Act, exactly which of his three marriages is he defending?

Giuliani's marital messiness is even more public than Barr's (or twice-married McCain's). Giuliani's second wife learned she was being dumped in favor of a new paramour from a televised press conference, and she very publicly insisted on remaining in Gracie Mansion regardless.

But Giuliani's newfound faith in marriage is not worth making too big a fuss over, seeing as how no major candidate for the Democratic nomination supports marriage for Gay couples either. In fact, they're as vague on federal recognition of "civil unions" as Giuliani is on "domestic partnerships.

The important thing is that if straight-talking Giuliani sticks by his previous support for non-discrimination and hate crimes laws, as well as domestic partnerships, he will be by far the best GOP presidential contender ever on Gay issues.

Giuliani's somewhat straight talk on Gay rights and abortion stands in marked contrast to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has abandoned his pro-choice, somewhat pro-Gay past in a rush to pander to conservative Christians. Born-again as a social conservative, Romney now claims there's no room in the GOP for someone like his old self: to the right on terrorism and taxes, but in the center on social issues.

In a campaign speech in Iowa last week, Romney used the metaphor of a three-legged stool that stands for three core Republican values. No, they aren't guns, God and Gays; well, actually, sort of - "strong military, strong economy, strong families."

"In my view, you've got to talk about all three for the Republican stool to stand," Romney said. "Two won't hold it up."

If the Republican contest for the White House shapes of as a choice between Rudy's big tent and Romney's three-legged stool, then the Log Cabin Republicans were right to put their early vocal support behind the former mayor of New York.

A nomination victory for Giuliani legitimizes social moderates on abortion and Gay rights for the first time as mainstream Republicans, which could make it as important and defining for the party as Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Ronald Reagan in 1980 - albeit in the opposite direction.

Chris Crain is former editor of the Washington Blade, Southern Voice, and Gay publications in three other cities. He can be reached via his blog at www.citizencrain.com.

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