In the fall of 1990, following my college graduation, I found my political heart unexpectedly falling for a guy named Bill. A decidedly left-leaning voter, I don’t often support the Republican candidate. But I have done it, and I will again for the right candidate. William "Bill" Weld -- highly successful U.S. Attorney for the State of Massachusetts and head of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department in Washington, D. C. -- was just such a guy. He ran against Democratic candidate -- and combative and socially conservative Boston University president -- John Silber in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race. My feelings about supporting Republican Weld were similar to the unease and anxiety I initially felt upon discovering my sexuality. It was wrapped up in identity, politics and values. I was coming out as a swinger -- uh, a swing-voter that is.
His pilgrim roots should have been met with skepticism by my Mohawk-sporting, Clash-listening, anti-establishment self. But his self-effacing humor was disarming. When Massachusetts Senate president William "Billy" Bulger once publicly ribbed him about his wealth and being a WASP, Weld deadpanned that his family hadn’t come over on the Mayflower; they actually sent the servants over first to get things ready. I loved his easy manner and his stellar record fighting money laundering by New England banks. I also admired his courage on social issues.
Weld used the power of his office
His stance on this and other social issues did not hurt his political career within the Commonwealth. He was a hugely popular governor, winning re-election with 71 percent of the vote. He carried all but five towns in one of the most liberal states in the country. Despite being a clear fiscal conservative, his support of gay and lesbian rights -- and other socially liberal causes--was his undoing when President Clinton nominated Weld to be the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Jesse Helms, Senate Foreign Relations chair, refused to hold a hearing on Weld’s nomination, and Weld was never confirmed. The Helms/ Weld standoff was a proxy battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party. Socially-liberal fiscal conservatives wanted a place at the table but Jesse Helms -- and other powerful Republicans -- refused to make room.
Now twenty years later -- following another drubbing in the presidential election -- the civil war within the Republican Party has burst into the open once again. The fight over the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, signed by President Clinton in 1996) has finally reached the U.S. Supreme Court. Socially liberal Republicans have taken off the gloves; they’ve made a direct challenge to Speaker John Boehner in the form of amicus briefs filed last week with the court.
Over 75 prominent Republicans and influential conservative thinkers have signed on to legal documents that advocate striking down Proposition 8 -- California’s ballot initiative barring same-sex marriage. This list of co-signers includes: Christine Todd Whitman (former governor of New Jersey), Jon Huntsman (former governor of Utah), James Comey (top G.W. Bush Justice Department Official), David Stockman (Reagan’s first budget director), and Bill Weld and Jane Swift (both former governors of Massachusetts). Ken Mehlman -- former chairman of the Republican National Committee who recently came out as gay -- told Sheryl Stolberg of the New York Times, "We are trying to say to the court that we are judicial and political conservatives, and it is consistent with our values and philosophy for you to overturn Proposition 8."
And it’s not just Republican politicians who are speaking out against DOMA; some of the world’s biggest companies have also signed on to amicus briefs rejecting Proposition 8. Marcus Wohlsen reports in Wired magazine that Apple, Google, Facebook, Mircosoft, and Amazon assert that DOMA impacts both morale and the bottom line at their companies. As Wohlsen explains, "The companies argue federal law forces companies to engage in administrative acrobatics to offer equal benefits to all employees." This has created an additional hurdle in keeping morale high and recruiting new talented employees.
One might expect hip tech companies such as Twitter, Oracle and Intuit (additional signers to the amicus brief) to reflect the views of the younger generation it employs, but decidedly un-sexy companies like Johnson & Johnson, Citigroup and Disney agree. National opinion on same-sex marriage has changed significantly in just a decade. Several recent polls indicate that a majority of Americans now supports same-sex marriage, and 70 percent of voters under 30 do so. As Jon Huntsman said of the Republican Party in a recent Op-Ed in The American Conservative, "We are at a crossroads. I believe the American people will for vote for free markets Š [b]ut the American people will not hear us out if we stand against their friends, family, and individual liberty."
Why is this Vermont liberal concerned about the health of the Republican Party? When your family has been devastated by fascism, one-party rule anywhere on the political spectrum is unsettling. We need multiple vibrant political parties to serve as another important means of checks and balances.
And on a more personal note, I’d like to see my old crush, Bill Weld, lead a resurgence of the Republican Mod Squad.