photo by Flickr user David (dbking)
One evening three years ago, a colleague and I sat at the dining table of a gay couple, newly married in New York, who wanted some financial guidance.
I had known one of the men for nearly 30 years; he had been my wife’s college classmate. I knew and liked his husband, too. The three of us had met previously to informally discuss their finances. Now we were beginning a formal relationship in which they would become clients of my firm.
They knew that I wrote a book on financial planning for unmarried couples back in the early ‘90s, long before same-sex marriage was an option, and they knew that I favored same-sex marriage before and after it had arrived. But they did not know that I happened to be a registered Republican until I mentioned that I had recently cast a primary ballot for Mitt Romney in my home state of Florida.
They were visibly stunned. It quickly became clear that they were also upset, although they tried to restrain themselves. They wanted to know how I could bring myself to vote for someone who opposed same-sex marriage, and whose party opposed same-sex marriage, therefore opposing families like theirs.
I pointed out that at that very moment, the sitting president, who belonged to the other party, was also officially opposed to same-sex marriage - and that his Justice Department had actively defended the federal government’s anti-marriage Defense of Marriage Act until both law and politics made such defense untenable. I also reminded them that another Democrat, Bill Clinton, was the president who signed DOMA, and that in the preceding presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had publicly opposed same-sex marriage. I conceded that both probably opposed it for political reasons, rather than out of misguided personal conviction, but that made me even less inclined to vote for them. Anyone who will cynically toss other people’s lives under the bus to win an election seems to me no more worthy of a vote than an opponent who is wrong, but probably more sincere, in his public policy positions.
Besides, I told them, if you want a more socially tolerant and inclusive Republican Party, it seems to me you need to start by recruiting more socially tolerant and inclusive Republicans. I was happy to volunteer.
I don’t think I convinced them. Our professional relationship ended that night, and aside from crossing paths at one or two social occasions in the intervening three years, I have never heard from either of these gentlemen again. That’s fine. Clients need to trust their financial advisers and feel comfortable around them. If my tolerance of Republican intolerance (at least compared to Democratic opportunism) made them uncomfortable, they were better served to work with someone else.
Fast forward to an evening a few weeks ago at a Broadway theater. At the end of an enjoyable performance of “The Audience,” starring Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth II, a cast member came onstage to make a fundraising appeal for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. In return for a $250 donation, patrons could receive a poster from the show autographed by Ms. Mirren and the rest of the cast. I knew my wife would treasure that keepsake. In any event, we wanted to support this worthwhile cause, so I cheerfully bought one of the posters. Nobody asked about my political affiliation, and nobody had any reason to care.
Except that, apparently, a lot of people really do care in the theater community and in the gay community (which are not coextensive, but which have considerable overlap in New York). A May 10 fundraiser for this very same organization was canceled after two prominent gay hoteliers hosted a small get-together with Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz last month.
The gathering, at a home owned by Mati Weiderpass and Ian Reisner, was held primarily to talk about foreign policy, and specifically about Israel and its relationship with the United States. Cruz is vocally opposed to gay marriage, but he is just as vocal in support of Israel, a position he hoped would be attractive to some of those in attendance. The gathering was not a fundraiser for Cruz. But it drew the attention of others in the gay community who, in effect, accused Weiderpass and Reisner of treason - or at least intolerable fraternization with the enemy.
Apparently, it’s not enough merely to disagree with someone, or to decline to give him your vote or campaign contribution. You are not allowed to talk to him, or to permit him to enter your home or, especially, to introduce him to your friends or acquaintances. Critics did not merely protest Weiderpass and Reisner’s allegedly misguided hospitality; they called for an economic boycott of their businesses, and the implicit threat was social ostracism as well.
It’s one thing if a gay couple with whom I have a passing friendship choose not to talk to me anymore. It’s another thing if your entire business and personal life revolves around the gay community and it collectively decides to shun you. Weiderpass soon apologized for his political incorrectness, but not until after the Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS fundraiser, scheduled for May 10 at a venue he operates with Reisner, had been called off.
The whole episode leaves me sad and puzzled. Advocates for gay marriage have repeatedly found that one of the best ways to gain acceptance is to let opponents get to know them as people, as couples, as families - as anything other than different, because gay households are not different from non-gay households in any way that matters. How do you win over people like Cruz, or Republicans in general, if you refuse even to talk to them and if you attack anyone who does? Who gets hurt when an organization like Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS cancels a fundraiser? Not Ted Cruz. Not financially secure individuals like Weiderpass and Reisner. Not me.
I hope nobody wants to take back that poster we bought at “The Audience.” I had it framed for my wife, and she loves it. And besides, I will state for the record: She is a Democrat.