Fred Karger on how he is building an LGBT-friendly Republican Party

Fred Karger, the first openly gay candidate for president, is on a serious mission to make the GOP more inclusive. Photo: Used with permission of Fred Karger Photo: Adam Bouska

FLORIDA, April 4, 2012 — The Republican Party is in transition.

On one side, social conservatives are clamoring to maintain power amid a cultural climate which increasingly counters their views. On another side, libertarians are making strides in blending social liberalism with virtually unregulated free market capitalism. On yet another side, traditionalists are seeking a return to what might be described as the Eisenhower Era; utilizing various philosophies to achieve this end.

Finally, moderates, who have largely been maligned since the passing of Nelson Rockefeller, sense that there might be a place for them amid the shuffle.

Perhaps Fred Karger fits best into this group. A career political operative, he rose to prominence by consulting on the campaigns of notables such as Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bob Dole. His most famous cause, though, is not for a single politician, but an extremely divisive issue: same-sex marriage.

Karger brought much attention to the matter when he ran for the GOP’s presidential nomination during last year’s primaries. In doing so, he became the first openly gay candidate for the presidency. These days, he furthers the interest of not only LGBT rights but also of reasonable Republican politics as a commentator.

In this first part of our discussion, Karger tells us about advocating for LGBT rights within the GOP, if he thinks many of the Party’s anti-LGBT stances will fade away with increasing electoral support for same-sex marriage, how the Religious Right has changed the GOP, whether or not he believes that Ron Paul libertarianism is a positive influence on the Party, and what he expects the future to hold for LGBT Republicans.   

Joseph F. Cotto: When one considers the Republican Party, LGBT politics are not something which typically come to mind. Is advocating for LGBT rights within the GOP really as quixotic as it sounds?

Fred Karger: The GOP is slowly coming around. Not all that long ago the Republican Party used to be the leader in civil rights. Now more and more Republican elected officials and leaders are coming out for LGBT equal rights. With 81% of 18 to 29 year olds supporting marriage equality, it’s just a matter of time.   

Cotto: With increasing electoral support for same-sex marriage, do you believe that many of the GOP’s anti-LGBT stances will fade away?

Karger: We are coming off electoral victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington just last November. The Oregon Republican Party stripped anti-gay language from its 2012 party platform in a shift toward the political center. Illinois’ GOP Chairman Pat Brady recently came out for marriage equality. Illinois will soon have a legislative vote on the issue. 

I live for the day when the Republican National Committee helps lead the way toward equality for all Americans just as our first Republican president did 150 years ago. 

Cotto: One of the Republican Party’s key voting blocs is the Religious Right, which consists of fundamentalist Christians. Needless to say, these voters do not tend to support LGBT politics. Has this proven to be a problem for LGBT Republicans?

Karger: The Religious Right wants to cleanse the GOP of people who do not agree with them 100% of the time. I learned from Ronald Reagan that we need a big tent Republican Party, reflecting a wide variety of views, while still maintaining core Republican beliefs. The problem that the Party is now facing is that so many reasonable, mainstream Republicans have left the Party that the primaries are now dominated by the far right. 

Cotto: Across the political spectrum as of late, libertarianism has become very popular. Specifically in the Republican Party, followers of Ron Paul are storming the establishment’s gates, so to speak. Do you believe that this is a positive development?

Karger: The libertarian movement within the Republican Party is making great headway thanks primarily to Ron Paul. He has had a clear and strong message of less government, and by so effectively communicating that message, has brought in a tremendous number of young people to the GOP.

Cotto: During the years ahead, as the LGBT community’s political lobby grows stronger, the GOP will undoubtedly need its support, both electorally and financially. What do you think the future holds for LGBT Republicans?

Karger: There is a huge opportunity for the LGBT community within the Republican Party right now. I get asked all the time why I don’t switch and become a Democrat. Well, the Democratic Party is in fine shape on LGBT issues. 48 Democrat U.S. Senators are supporting marriage equality. Only two Republicans support it at the moment. Change will only happen on LGBT issues in the GOP from within, which is why I am sticking around. 


Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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