Dear Straight Republicans…

Dennis Sanders

Dennis is the pastor of a small Protestant congregation outside St. Paul, MN and also a part-time communications consultant. A native of Michigan, you can check out his writings over on Medium and subscribe to his Substack newsletter on religion and politics called Polite Company.  Dennis lives in Minneapolis with his husband Daniel.

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60 Responses

  1. Kazzy says:

    “What I’ve known over the years is that there are a lot of good Republicans that have welcomed me personally as a gay man.”

    Dennis, I ask this genuinely — and not in any way to disparage these relationships — but do you think all of these good Republicans would have been as welcoming to you personally if you were a gay liberal? Or a gay conservative but one of those gays?

    In a way, maybe this gets to your point and also slightly undermines it. Those folks may have been able to look past something they might have otherwise found objectionable* because they were able to identify with you through other terms, namely ideology. Their thinking might have been along the lines of, “Yes, he’s gay but…” And the fact that you offered them an opportunity to include the “but…” — in a way that a gay liberal might not have — allowed them to get to know you personally and perhaps challenge their perception. So, this might undermine your point insofar as you can still have an impact on the party, but it is going to happen (or at least start) at the personal level.

    * Of course, there exists the very real possibility that these folks really had no issue with your sexual orientation.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Kazzy says:

      @kazzy I can’t speak for Dennis, but I have more than a shop teacher’s handful of Republican loved ones and acquaintances who don’t care a whit that I’m not only bisexual, but also way to the left of the politicians they consider to be way to the left. And fairly gender-nonconforming to boot. They treat me the same and (in the case of my loved ones) love me the same.

      Some of ’em could stand to read this post. Others already get it.

      When I read a comment like yours, my kneejerk response is usually, “Do you *know* many Republicans??”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Maribou says:

        Thanks for your perspective, @maribou . I’m glad that your experiences have been what they are.

        And I should have made clear that I don’t think the phenomenon I described is unique to conservatives and LGBT folks. I think when we have the opportunity to connect with “the other”, our perception of them is very different than what they are some abstract concept.

        Using myself as an example, I have a fairly conservative friend who is a gun owner and my perception of him is very different than of the stock Conservative Gun Owner trope. I think this is a fairly human thing.Report

        • nevermoor in reply to Kazzy says:

          “Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and all. And once you do, you will feel so much better”
          ? Harvey MilkReport

  2. Damon says:

    You’re asking a lot @Dennis Sanders

    You’re asking a lot of people that are ambivalent to get involved and work hard for something they probably don’t care enough about. Yeah, they’re all semi pro support but mouthing words is easy. Now you want them to work, campaign, vote, etc. Most of them don’t even do much of that when it’s the issues they are passionate about are at stake.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Damon says:


      I believe at least part of Dennis’s point is that without that work, the Republican party will never gain widespread support of A) a small but not insignificant part of the population and B) a very large part of the population who support the group in (A). As long as GOP is — or perceived to be — the party that is at best ambivalent to the needs of LGBT folks, there is a sizable portion of the population that will never vote for them. That is going to be a real problem with them as their primary demographic continues to shrink.

      So, even if only from a strategic perspective, their efforts are crucial.Report

      • Damon in reply to Kazzy says:

        No disagreement. However, the resurgence of the GOP could manifest itself differently. After all, why focus on a very small minority group when focusing on, say hispanics, might be a more effective strategy?Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Damon says:

          It’s true; appealing to Hispanics and African-Americans would be a much bigger win. And since they’re not going to do that …Report

        • bookdragon in reply to Damon says:

          Because, based on the attitudes I’ve observed among my daughter’s cohort (just now becoming aware of politics and forming the opinions that will influence them when they begin voting in 2020), people who are against SSM are almost universally regarded as backward thinking bigots. These kids are nowhere near as united in their opinions wrt immigration and largely unaware of any other Hispanic issues.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Damon says:

          Yeah, but you still have a “How does your date treat the waitstaff?” problem there. If you’re courting one minority group, you’re going to need to convince them that you’re being genuine and won’t abandon them as soon as you get their votes.

          Continuing to hate on other minorities isn’t a very good way of doing that.Report

          • Damon in reply to Alan Scott says:

            The Dems seem to have been doing a decent job screwing their supporters from time to time. Why wouldn’t it work for the RepbusReport

            • Alan Scott in reply to Damon says:

              Er, isn’t that exactly what I’m proposing that the GOP do? Piss off the White Evangelical base to recruit minorities that have been a lock for the Dems in recent years?

              Hippie punching is a major part of the reason that Democrats have been successful as they have over the past decade. Ignoring your fringe makes you look smart and responsible to undecided voters–voters that the GOP needs to win over if it’s ever going to get back into the White House.Report

  3. zic says:

    In on of Rod Dreher’s posts after the decision, Defend the Church Within, he ends expressing fear of the very thing you’re requesting, Dennis:

    One more thing: I predict that religious conservatives will be shocked by how many of their own in the days and weeks to come publicly embrace same-sex marriage.

    This is a disturbing read, it goes deeply into loss of privilege of the traditional Christian Churches in politics and culture; it’s a morning of the a religious right to dictate.

    Dreher quotes Peter Leithart:

    The church began as a disestablished minority, and that’s where much of the global church is. Early Christians were accused of incest; we can endure being treated as bigots. Been there, done that.


    Creating an alternative public sounds like a plan to intensify the culture war, but it’s the opposite. Culture war continues because, in response to our displacement, we’ve tried to politick our values back on top. We failed, but for the church this is a skirmish in a spiritual war crossing millennia. We have the luxury of patience.

    and Ephraim Radner

    Third, the Christian Church is now a secondary player in these cultural transformations. She is also intrinsically debased, so intertwined has she become, at least regionally, with larger cultural shifts and declensions. The imperative for renewal, both within the church and in her relationship with surrounding political cultures, is inescapable. Are we in need of new reformation, in line with the reformations of fourth century, the twelfth, the sixteenth, and the nineteenth? If so, we will need to reform in the direction of Christian unity, the lack of which helped to create the very ecclesial incapacities of today.


    • North in reply to zic says:

      I kind of like Dreher’s position. I can think of no mightier revenge against the church than for the faithful to “Benedict option” themselves into their little enclaves and fade away, unnoticed and unmourned. I submit that they should be permitted to do so.Report

      • Richard Hershberger in reply to North says:

        Some versions of the church (or, if you prefer, some manifestations of it). The church, in the broad sense, is far from unified on this topic. My particular congregation was thrilled with the recent ruling.Report

        • True and they would thus feel no impulsion to sequester themselves away I would presume.

          In truth I’m talking more to my own side. There is a not immaterial faction of the movement that thinks that we should hound religious fundamentalists to the very last. Tax exempt status, forcing them to officiate gay marriages, driving them from the public square etc… ironically that kind of martyring is exactly what the fundamentalists hope for (short of victory).Report

          • KatherineMW in reply to North says:

            I think it would be a very selfish thing for gay people to deliberately seek to destroy Christian charities that are genuinely helping people on the basis that those charities want to act in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.Report

            • North in reply to KatherineMW says:

              Agreed, it would be, but selfishness/selflessness isn’t their concern; fantasies of revenge or honest belief that driving religion from the public square would be beneficial is.
              I’m hopeful that natural inertia and ordinary life prevents it. I would love to see Dreher have to eat all his overwrought predictions of antichristian pogroms (though no doubt there’ll be enough useful idiots to figleaf for him regardless).Report

            • Francis in reply to KatherineMW says:

              I think it would be a remarkably selfless thing for gay people to allow Christian charities to continue to act in violation of civil rights laws (remembering that gay people are not an undifferentiated mass and that all it takes to file a lawsuit is a single affected individual and the necessary litigation budget).

              If, for example, a Christian charity receives a government grant to assist in the placement of adoptive children and refused to consider placing the child with a legally married couple (that was same sex), I don’t think it’s the least bit selfish for the charity to be sued.

              Or if a Christian charity is operating a hospital and refuses to grant visitation privileges to a spouse (who is same sex).

              Or if the charity is operating a school and does not require religious observance from its custodial staff, but refuses to hire a married cook (in a same sex marriage).

              Just how tolerant should civil society be towards religious accommodation inconsistently applied? Is it OK for a Catholic charity to hire a divorcee but refuse to hire a (same-sex) married individual for the same spot?Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Francis says:

                If you’re shutting down a homeless shelter or Catholic hospital because they wouldn’t hire you, even though you probably wouldn’t want to work there anyway because they disagree with your choices, then yes, that’s spiteful, selfish, and harmful. It puts yourself ahead of the hundreds or thousands of people in need that they’re helping on a daily basis.

                There are plenty of Christian charities who only hire employees who avoid activities inconsistent with Christian teachings (not just in terms of sexuality: also things like not using drugs, not drinking to excess), and who do good work, and who recieve funding to support their charitable activities. Shutting them down would benefit nobody and harm the people these charities serve.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to KatherineMW says:

                This isn’t about the down-and-out. This is about me.Report

              • Alan Scott in reply to KatherineMW says:

                Er, that kinda depends though.

                To the extent that a charity organization is just a 3rd party social services contractor whose bills are being footed by the government, shutting them down can also mean that a better, non-discriminatory charity gets the funding instead.Report

              • KatherineMW in reply to Alan Scott says:

                Right, because there are just too many charities in place and the homeless and poor have a surplus of services available. There’s no way that giving them less services could actually be harmful! Or that destroying an organization with whom they have a decades-long postive relationship could deprive them of needed assistance and support!

                Charities aren’t “third-party contractors”. They’re organizations that go out of their way to help people, with no thought for profit, and because they truly care about the people they’re assisting and don’t just regard them as sources of revenue, they make a real, positive difference.

                Telling them they need to violate their beliefs or you’re going to cut off their funding makes the world a worse place.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to KatherineMW says:


                It seems to me there’s a baby to be split here. Hiring decisions are one thing. But a Catholic hospital refusing to recognize the spousal rights of a same-sex spouse is another.Report

              • Francis in reply to KatherineMW says:

                “Shutting them down would benefit nobody”

                That’s a truly remarkable view of civil rights laws. I truly don’t care if the local hospital has the returned Son of God on the board of directors; it still needs to comply with the law. (Who knows, if a Catholic hospital stops illegal discrimination it might find that people who formerly didn’t want to work there now do.)

                And none of the categories you cite — non-use of drugs, limited use of alcohol — are generally considered to be protected from employment discrimination.

                That said, the United States generally has very broad religious exemptions available to various civil rights laws. Witness, for example, the outcome of Hobby Lobby. If religious conservatives are suddenly alarmed by their loss of political power and stature, I recommend that they work to expand such laws even further.

                Particularly in the area of employment, religious conservatives might even find common cause with strange allies who have frequently (and even still) suffer discrimination ….

                like the gay community.Report

              • Will H. in reply to Francis says:

                And if St. Francis Medical Center is required to provide an abortion to a nun (presumably, of one of the several orders associated with St. Francis), who exactly does that benefit?

                I’m seeing civil rights at issue here, and it’s not falling with the patient.

                Similarly, at a dinner following the Red Mass of the St. Thomas More Lawyers’ Guild, there was a Franciscan there among the dinner guests. Easy to tell by the robes.
                They have a place north of town where they care for abandoned animals.
                The question is:
                Should the Franciscans be required to admit LGBT persons into their Order, or are available alternative means of caring for abandoned animals sufficient for purposes of the Constitution?

                I don’t see myself ever siding against the Franciscans on this one.Report

              • Francis in reply to Will H. says:

                Are the Franciscan receiving federal / state / local dollars? Are the services provided only by members of the order, or do they hire locally for people to clean the pens? How are they discriminating and against whom?

                If the Franciscans, for example, refused to place dogs with mixed-race families, should there be a remedy?Report

              • Will H. in reply to Francis says:

                How are they discriminating and against whom?
                Word is that not one of them out there is gay.
                Of course, I guess we would have to actually join the Order to find out for sure.

                Are the Franciscan receiving federal / state / local dollars?
                How far does “receive” go?
                They’re tax-exempt, and so are their properties, so in that sense, yes.
                They might even receive tax abatements on business properties for all I know. At the very least, they are not ineligible for such abatements offered by local governments in exchange for located a business property in that area, to my knowledge.
                Do they receive grant funding? I don’t know, but I’m not opposed to it.

                If the Franciscans, for example, refused to place dogs with mixed-race families, should there be a remedy?
                I don’t know of the Franciscans ever doing such a thing, but were that to happen and I were aware of it, I would have a word with Bishop Praprocki.

                Everyone answers to someone.
                The notion that the someone should be the government most, if not all, of the time, is not one I particularly care for.
                I disapprove of the expansion of government-provided daycare to include micro-management of the affairs of adults.Report

              • zic in reply to Will H. says:

                I’ll remind you that Savita Halappanavar recently died in an Irish Catholic hospital, where the staff refused to perform a life-saving abortion.Report

              • Will H. in reply to zic says:

                The thought that I might die from a coronary event where a plastic surgeon refuses to perform a bypass truly concerns me.
                . . . not that much.Report

              • zic in reply to Will H. says:

                The refusal was based on religious expression, and in conflict with the hospitals life-saving mission.Report

              • Will H. in reply to zic says:

                I have some rather hard feelings against the limitations placed on medical negligence actions.
                Nonetheless, the people have spoken through their elected representatives.
                Were the occasional fatality not specifically desired, that speech from the people might have stated things a bit differently.
                To my knowledge, no doctor was harmed, whether professionally or economically, and thus the entirety of the concerns of the general public are satisfied in full.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Will H. says:

                Should the Franciscans be required to admit LGBT persons into their Order,

                What makes you think they don’t? I can tell you stories, and so can almost anyone else raised Catholic.Report

              • North in reply to Francis says:

                In my opinion the moment a religious charity pairs with Government funding their moral position flies out the window. They can set their biases aside or they can move over. You take the public dime you play to the public tune.

                But in many cases religious organizations offer charitable services with no direct government funding and in those circumstances I think they should be left alone.Report

              • Will H. in reply to North says:

                I believe there are two fallacies at play in this statement.

                One is that any charity organization is necessarily some form of interest group, and as such, is actively involved in advocacy away from the current public position.
                For example, a charity providing utility assistance is actively advocating away from the prevailing public position, which is, essentially, “People should pay their utility bills,” on down through debt collection laws, and into bankruptcy. The charity actively acts against those debt collection and bankruptcy laws.

                Secondly, is the notion that the public position is some homogenous blend rather than an amalgam of numerous shifting positions.
                The natural inference is that no charitable organization should continue in its activities.Report

        • bookdragon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

          Yep, my church gave thanks for the ruling in fact. But then we ordained a gay bishop back when we were supposed to be ashamed of having people like him….Report

    • Michelle in reply to zic says:

      Dreher has really gone off the rails lately. He doesn’t get that the loss of Christian hegemony isn’t the equivalent of persecution and he’s totally freaking out.Report

      • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Michelle says:

        His conservative members of the commentariat has gone even more off the rails. The combination of Ferguson + Baltimore + the Confederate flag + gay marriage really upset his group of uberCatholic trads with 9 kids a piece, “race realists”, and various haters of representative democracy.Report

  4. Richard Hershberger says:

    “…it’s not going to come from the scattered few gay conservatives and libertarians.”

    It’s not going to come from everyone who self-identifies as libertarian. I have known more than a few such who suddenly become remarkably un-libertarian when the subject moves from tax rates and gun control to gay marriage.Report

  5. Francis says:

    “Dear Straight Republicans…” please vote for Democrats until such time as the GOP returns to its (largely-theoretical) roots of fiscal conservatism, non-interventionist foreign policy and rejection of social conservatives.Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Francis says:

      That seems to be the solution for most of my self-identified conservative peers. At least here in California, we get the occasional Republican who realizes they’re in a blue state, and doesn’t go in for boneheaded positions on minority rights issues.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Alan Scott says:


        I think the issue at this point is that Republican Californians have much more in common culturally with Alabamanians than they do with their fellow Californians.Report

        • Alan Scott in reply to Saul Degraw says:

          See, I don’t think that’s actually the case.

          Republicans in the parts of California where Republicans still win are pretty “red state”, yeah. But there are plenty of republicans (or at least conservatives, former Republicans, right-leaning libertarians, etc) In the blue counties. Those votes could be won by a different kind of Republican Party, but not the one California has now.

          My main reason in supporting the “top two” primary system is that it empowers Blue-friendly Republicans to seek office without going through the red republicans who controlled the partisan primary system.Report

  6. morat20 says:

    Well, I’m watching the straight Texas Republicans do the following:

    1) Our Governor and Attorney General are either pandering to the masses OR lack the high school basics of governmental theory or both. The Governor started with ignoring the Supremacy clause and has — along with the AG — migrated to “But our religious conscience law means you don’t have to”. (The most generous view is that our illustrious leaders are just being helpful to all those county clerks and letting them know the state has set aside lawyers to help them not do their job).

    2) There’s been a rather large uptick in secession talk, which has made me want to scream “NO ONE IS GOING TO SECEDE YOU TWITS”.

    Gay marriage, the ACA, and the backlash against our “heritage” of flying the flag of treason and sedition has apparently kicked a number of southern conservatives in their ideological nutsack.

    I’m having to just not read certain relatives of mine’s Facebook feeds, because as a Southern liberal you learn early on it’s just not worth talking about politics.

    So, purely anecdotally, I’m thinking conservative Republicans are not really ready to give up on this issue nor are they going to do the pragmatic thing here.

    I’m now leaning towards 60% chance gay marriage and full-throated denunciations thereof end up being a major primary issue.Report

    • North in reply to morat20 says:

      *tents his partisan democratic hands and cackles* I certainly hope so!Report

    • Will Truman in reply to morat20 says:

      Meh. Two of the three “clear path to the Republican nomination” candidates have basically said “I disagree with the ruling, but let’s move on.” The third denounced it loudly, and then his next speech to a socially conservative group didn’t feel much need to bring it up and didn’t.

      They’re certainly not dealing with it as gracefully as I would prefer, and while Huck will be Huck and candidates on the outside looking in will try to get some traction on it, right now I’m filing this away with “After they win the Senate we’re going to hear impeachment/shutdown talk again” and “By election day 2016 anti-vaccination will be a GOP litmus test.”Report

  7. Dan Scotto says:

    I think the key thing is that political parties exist to win elections, and Republicans cannot put together a winning coalition without social conservatives. The electoral math just does not work. So Republicans have to thread a needle: expand the tent without alienating the base. That limits what the party can do, even if the party’s elites or younger voters would like to go in a certain direction. But there is no winning Republican coalition based on people who currently support gay marriage. I think a lot of what we see with the Republican Party is about how the party grapples with this conflicting situation.

    Your broader point, though, is right, I think. I would agree that tolerance should be required and that Republicans should stop passing bills that deliberately target gays. The rhetoric needs to change, too. I will do my part to speak out against those things where I see them.

    Lastly, I agree with everything KatherineMW has written in this thread. Charities and religious organizations should get a lot of latitude to act out of conscience. It’s not an absolute–I can imagine some scenarios where something would rise to the level of discrimination worthy of legal action–but in a pluralistic society, I think that sincerely-held beliefs should get substantial latitude.Report

    • The talk of a Constitutional amendment is pure pandering: it wouldn’t pass either house by two thirds, and even if it somehow did, there’s no way it would be ratified by 38 states. This much is obvious. At what point do Republicans start telling social conservatives even not-so-hard truths like that?Report

    • Alan Scott in reply to Dan Scotto says:

      Dan Scotto:
      I think the key thing is that political parties exist to win elections, and Republicans cannot put together a winning coalition without social conservatives. The electoral math just does not work.

      They cant’ put together a winning coalition with social conservatives either. They can hold the house and grab the senate in off-years, but their insistence on going for the social conservative (and even more importantly, the White nativist) vote means that we won’t see another GOP president until Democrats start fielding candidates a lot more dismal than Hillary.

      At this point, their decision is between losing in ways that keep them sliding toward irrelevance, and losing in ways that nevertheless attracts new blood and sets them up for victories in the longer term.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Dan Scotto says:

      I disagree with this:
      Republicans cannot put together a winning coalition without social conservatives.

      In 2012, it was hard any vocal SoCons out there, yet the R’s demonstrated significant electoral success.Report

    • Kim in reply to Dan Scotto says:

      “Republicans cannot put together a winning coalition without social conservatives”
      Oh, sure they can. You see, the social conservatives (at least the objectionable southern ones) are something the Democrats Can’t Stand.

      So if you cut them loose, you don’t lose votes to the other side. What to gain? How about all the Conservadems? The blacks and hispanics first among them.Report

    • Jesse Ewiak in reply to Dan Scotto says:

      “Lastly, I agree with everything KatherineMW has written in this thread. Charities and religious organizations should get a lot of latitude to act out of conscience.”

      I agree, until you engage in government funded affairs. Once you take gay taxpayer money, you don’t get to discriminate against gay people in giving services.Report

  8. Will H. says:

    Dennis, frankly, I don’t consider being gay to be that big of deal.
    My interest lies more in the area of securing the rights of all people rather than focusing on one small bloc of the population (or even a large bloc, for that matter).

    FWIW, within my own circle of conservatives, I haven’t seen any anti-gay slurs for time out of mind.
    That’s just the company I keep.Report

    • morat20 in reply to Will H. says:

      One does tend to trim one’s social circles when faced with something outside the pale. If you happen to find bigotry of that sort…unacceptable…in a friend or even acquaintance, you’d push them out.

      I’ve noticed a bit of a trend — people who complain about bigots or racists or sexists in their social circles (especially on places like Facebook) seem to be most often talking of their family — extended or otherwise. Because if my friend Bob turns out to spew racist drivel on Facebook (or in person) I quickly tend to drop Bob as someone to associate with.

      But if my cousin Jimmy keeps telling racist jokes, it’s harder to boot him from the family — or deal with the crap from my Aunt if suddenly I drop off his Facebook friends list. (None of my cousins are racist. Sorry guys! Made up example!)

      So, you know, most of my conservative friends aren’t racists or bigots. I wouldn’t be friends with them if they were.

      What’s the old saw? You can choose your friends, but not your family?Report