Move over, Rick Santorum! Ted Cruz is the GOP's new anti-gay rock star

The Tea Party hero lashes out at marriage equality and Houston's gay mayor. Why he's homophobes' 2016 favorite

Published October 16, 2014 8:44PM (EDT)

  (AP/Molly Riley)
(AP/Molly Riley)

Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum may be gearing up for a second White House run, but his 2012 base has some bad news for the former Pennsylvania senator. Deep in the heart of Texas, they’ve found a new anti-gay hero.

One Ted Cruz has emerged as the most stridently homophobic of the GOP’s 2016 contenders. Of course, it’s not as if his positions on LGBT issues are all that different from any other likely GOP contender. But the Scott Walkers and Jeb Bushes of the party prefer to keep quiet about their conservative social views, lest they alienate swing voters. (Although it’s worth noting that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who came out for marriage equality after learning his son is gay, is reportedly considering a bid. He would lose.) Cruz, by contrast, is out and proud with his anti-gay views, and by repeatedly inserting himself into anti-gay firestorms, he’s showing every sign that bigoted demagoguery will be central to a Cruz 2016 campaign.

The most consequential moment of Cruz’s nascent Senate career is, no doubt, the government shutdown he triggered last year over Obamacare. But he has also introduced among the most odious pieces of anti-gay legislation since the Defense of Marriage Act. Earlier this year, Cruz and Utah Sen. Mike Lee introduced a bill that would preserve the rights of states to ban marriage equality and to refuse recognition of same-sex unions performed in other states. Because the bill would have sanctioned a patchwork of state laws on marriage equality and jeopardized same-sex couples’ rights as they traveled from state to state, LGBT advocates nicknamed the legislation the “’You’re Not Married Anymore’ Bill.”

That bill stood approximately as much chance of becoming law as legislation making Che Guevara’s birthday a national holiday. Beyond introducing hopeless bills, however, Cruz has served up no shortage of bombastic anti-gay rhetoric. Cruz was among the first GOP politicians to rush to the defense of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he made crude anti-gay remarks in an interview with GQ magazine. Commenting on the controversy, Cruz wrote on his Facebook page, “The reason that so many Americans love Duck Dynasty is because it represents the America usually ignored or mocked by liberal elites: a family that loves and cares for each other, believes in God, and speaks openly about their faith.”

Those liberal elites, at it again – deigning to mock a down-home reality show star for speaking openly about his faith by equating gay people with terrorists and goat fuckers.

More recently, we saw Cruz going ballistic in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision last week to let stand a series of lower court rulings in favor of marriage equality. Calling the decision “tragic and indefensible” and “judicial activism at its worst,” Cruz vowed to introduce a constitutional amendment “to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.” It’s precisely the kind of debate the GOP, increasingly out of step with public opinion on LGBT equality, wants to avoid. But Cruz is determined to have it.

This week brought more anti-gay hysteria. Local and national conservatives have pounced on Houston Mayor Annise Parker – a lesbian and favorite right-wing target – after attorneys defending that city’s new LGBT non-discrimination ordinance subpoenaed sermons by anti-gay pastors opposed to the ordinance. Cruz joined the chorus of condemnation Wednesday.

"This is wrong. It's unbefitting of Texans, and it's un-American. The government has no business asking pastors to turn over their sermons. These subpoenas are a grotesque abuse of power, and the officials who approved them should be held accountable by the people. The mayor should be ashamed. And we should all be proud to stand up and defend the pastors who are resisting these blatant attempts to suppress their First Amendment rights,” Cruz said in a statement.

As the Huffington Post’s Paige Lavender notes, however, the mayor herself had nothing to do with the subpoenas, which were issued by independent attorneys working pro bono for the city and, at any rate, were pretty standard legal procedure.

But the Religious Right is wedded to the narrative the LGBT equality poses a fundamental threat to religious liberty and rights of individual conscience – Soon we could have to bake cakes! For GAY COUPLES!!! – and Cruz is savvy enough to know that religious liberty controversies are the next major gay rights battleground.

While your faithful correspondent doesn’t see Cruz as likely to capture the GOP nod in 2016, his rabidly anti-gay views could nonetheless do great damage to the party as it attempts to squelch talk of LGBT issues. Consider the way Santorum’s anti-contraception views became fodder for debate moderators in 2012, forcing the GOP into an awkward conversation on the subject and helping drive more women voters to the Democratic Party.

A similar dynamic may well play out with gay rights in 2016, when younger and less conservative voters will turn out in far greater numbers than in a midterm year like this one. Gay rights won’t necessarily be foremost in their minds, but if the GOP can’t shed its troglodyte image on the issue, they’re unlikely to even get a hearing from much of the voting public. And if that’s the case, they can thank Ted Cruz.

By Luke Brinker

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