On February 6, President Ronald Wilson Reagan would have been 113 years old. The anniversary of Reagan's birthday always has a way of irking the left and inspiring the right, with liberals quick to demonize our 40th President for his perceived inaction on AIDS and advocates on the right making similarly unfounded assertions that Reagan was a hardline social conservative. Both are false claims.
Of course, a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a moving picture-as Reagan well knew, both during his time as an actor and as a politician-is worth a million. That's why Liberty Education Forum, the organization for which I serve as Executive Director, used the anniversary of Reagan's birth as a symbolic date on which to debut our new video which uses the words of Regan's farewell speech to the nation to remind the country-especially conservatives-that the time to get on the right side of history on gay rights is now.
Liberty Education Forum is the sister think tank of Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that may well never have grown to the national prominence it has were it not for Reagan's bold stand against the Briggs Initiative, a referendum-not unlike 2008's controversial Proposition 8-that asked California residents to vote on whether to make it illegal for openly gay individuals to teach in California public schools. Briggs looked to pass by a margin of 2-1; after Reagan's historic op-ed against Briggs, sentiment flipped and the measure failed by the same ratio.
On the flip side of the political spectrum, liberals howl with fury with the declaration that Reagan "allowed" AIDS to run wild in the early 1980s, equating a lack of public statements by the President on the issue with perceived inaction. But the fact is Reagan spent over 5.7 billion dollars on AIDS during the course of his administration, and called AIDS funding a "top priority" for the Department of Health and Human Services at a time when science itself was racing to find answers on the emerging epidemic.
It's worth noting that the platform of the Republican Party said not a word about gay rights, gay marriage-gay anything-in both the 1980 and 1984 Party platforms. In fact, it wasn't until the culture wars of the 1990's that the GOP began its push against equal rights for gay Americans. Was Reagan opposed to equality for gay Americans? If he was, he certainly didn't make it a big deal, either in the campaign trail or while he was in office.
What he did say could be telling. Speaking to a group of female elected officials in 1984, Reagan remarked, "And let me say, there is no place in the Republican Party for those who would exhibit prejudice against anyone. There's no place in our party for the kind of bigotry and ugly rhetoric that we've been hearing outside our party recently. We have no room for hate here, and we have no place for the haters." Sentiments worth keeping in mind today.
Would Reagan have supported the right of gay Americans to enter into civil marriage partnerships? His Vice President George H. W. Bush recently served as a certifying witness to a same-sex marriage in Maine. And the Reagans' interior decorator Ted Graber spent a night with his longtime partner in the private quarters of the White House as a special guest of the First Family during First Lady Nancy's 60th birthday celebration.
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The facts point to a President who, at the very least, would remind his fellow conservatives today of the same message we are pushing in our video: gay Americans are deserving of the same rights, protections-and love-as anyone else.