Ken Mehlman, President Bush's campaign manager in 2004 and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, has told family and associates that he is gay, The Atlantic magazine's politics editor reported Wednesday.
Marc Ambinder, who is also chief political consultant to CBS news, said in an online post that Mehlman told him in an interview that he concluded he was gay fairly recently and now wants to be an advocate for gay marriage.
Mehlman told The Atlantic that he anticipated that questions would arise about his participation in a late-September fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the group that supported the legal challenge to California's ballot initiative against gay marriage, Proposition 8.
"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman, now an executive vice president with the New York City-based private equity firm KKR told The Atlantic. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago."
The Atlantic said that in off-the-record conversations, Mehlman previously voiced support for civil unions and beat back Republican officials' efforts to attack same-sex marriage. He insisted, too, that Bush "was no homophobe," The Atlantic said. He often wondered why gay voters never formed common cause with Republican opponents of Islamic jihad, which he called "the greatest anti-gay force in the world right now."
Mehlman told The Atlantic that he could not, as an individual Republican, go against the party consensus as it stepped up anti-gay initiatives. He said he was aware that Karl Rove, Bush's chief strategic adviser, worked to make sure that anti-gay initiatives and referenda would appear on November ballots in 2004 and 2006 to help Republicans.
Mehlman, The Atlantic said, acknowledged that if he had publicly declared his sexuality sooner, he might have played a role in keeping the party from pushing an anti-gay agenda.
He told the magazine he regrets not taking the party message to the gay community.
While in office, Mehlman dodged media efforts to confirm rumors and stories about his sexuality, he told The Atlantic. Republicans close to Mehlman either said they did not know, or that it did not matter, or that the question was offensive.
Party principles 'consistent'
In advocating for same-sex marriage, Mehlman told the magazine he would appeal to Republican principles.
"I hope that we, as a party, would welcome gay and lesbian supporters. I also think there needs to be, in the gay community, robust and bipartisan support [for] marriage rights."
Ed Gillespie, a former RNC chairman and longtime friend of Mehlman, told The Atlantic that "it is significant that a former chairman of the Republican National Committee is openly gay and that he is supportive of gay marriage." Gillespie told the magazine he opposes gay marriage, but stalwarts like former Vice President Dick Cheney and strategist Mary Matalin advocate for gay rights.
But, Gillespie told the magazine, he does not envision the party platform changing anytime soon.