Much ado was made earlier this month when marriage equality arrived in Florida and former governor (and potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate) Jeb Bush said something vaguely conciliatory about it.
“We live in a democracy,” Bush said in a statement provided to the media, “and regardless of our disagreements, we have to respect the rule of law. I hope that we can show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue -- including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty."
Bush’s statement was carefully calibrated to divert attention from off-the-cuff remarks he made at the golf course the day before, when he lamented to a Miami Herald reporter: “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it's been overturned by the courts, I guess.”
The strategy worked like a charm -- the media focused on the second statement rather than the first. The New York Times hailed Bush’s “notable open-mindedness” and called his “evolution” on marriage equality “striking,” and the Washington Post gushed that the presidential hopeful may have “given the Republican Party a new way to talk about same-sex marriage.”
But when you peel back the breathless hyperbole and look at what Bush actually said, it becomes crystal clear that nothing substantial has changed. He still opposes the freedom to marry, just as he has for more than 20 years -- he’s just framing that opposition in a more politically palatable way. (In 2015, serious mainstream candidates for national office just can’t get away with railing against “sodomy” or equating homosexuality with pedophilia and drunk driving these days, the way Jeb did when he first ran for governor in 1994.)
Simply put, when it comes to marriage equality, Jeb Bush hasn’t “evolved” at all -- yet he and his team managed to hoodwink the media into thinking he had.
The whole episode bears a striking resemblance, albeit on a smaller scale, to the cultural narrative surrounding Pope Francis. In 2013, when the pope made his now-famous “who am I to judge?” remark about celibate gay priests, the media went freaking nuts, misrepresenting the narrow scope of Francis’ comments and hailing them as a “sea change” in Catholicism. (You’d have thought the pontiff had draped himself in a rainbow flag and marched in a Pride parade!)
When he said some more nice-sounding words about LGBT people a few months later, everyone flipped out again, further glossing over Francis’s long history of ugly anti-gay remarks and fueling the false perception that a seismic shift had taken place in the Catholic Church on the subject of LGBT rights. But while this pope’s softening rhetoric on homosexuality is indeed a welcome change in tone from the intense homophobia of Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II, it does nothing to change the substance: the Catholic Church still teaches that homosexuality itself is “objectively disordered,“ gay sex “intrinsically” so.
Still, most in the media were fooled by Francis. The Advocate, America’s best-known LGBT magazine, even named the Pope its 2013 “Person of the Year, passing over people who had made actual, substantive contributions to the cause of equality like Edie Windsor, Roberta Kaplan, Barack Obama, and François Hollande. The magazine’s cover featured a photo of Pope Francis with a NOH8 tattoo superimposed on his cheek.
The effects of this pinkwashing continue to this day. In November the pope held a special anti-marriage equality symposium at the Vatican, and just this past week, during a visit to the Philippines, Francis slammed same-sex marriage as an “attack” on the family that threatens “to disfigure God’s plan for creation” -- yet most Americans still operate under the false perception that Pope Francis and the church he leads have gotten good with the gays.
In fact SFGN gave readers a choice this year as their person of the year between Tim Cook and Pope Francis and the readers chose the Pope.
We cannot let the same thing happen to Jeb Bush. Just like the Catholic Church, Bush and his party aren’t abandoning their anti-LGBT beliefs — they’re just talking about them less and putting on a kinder, more media-savvy face whenever they’re forced to do so. These are changes of style, not of substance, and they’re not good enough. For as Sarah Palin — another famous former Republican governor -- loves to remind us, you can put lipstick on a pig… but it’s still a pig.