When a Republican Gets Gay Married

When the federal court ruling striking down Michigan’s ban on same-sex marriage came down, I happened to be in Lansing for the weekend. The county clerk there, Barb Byrum, opened up the next morning to issue licenses and perform weddings and Saturday afternoon word began circulating excitedly among my friends there that Doug Meeks and Greg McNeilly, a political power couple in the state, had gotten married.

A little background is probably required to see why this is notable. Doug Meeks is an attorney and used to be the president of Equality Michigan, the state’s most prominent gay rights organization. I don’t know him well, but I’ve met him and had him on my radio show and we have many close friends in common. Greg McNeilly, his partner of 12 years, I’ve never met or spoken to, but I certainly know who he is. He’s one of the top Republican political consultants in the state of Michigan, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party and Dick DeVos’ right hand man and campaign manager.

Why is that notable? Because Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune, has spent millions of dollars in Michigan and all over the country to prevent Greg McNeilly and every other gay person from getting married. He is one of the primary funders of a vast range of right-wing causes, especially anti-gay ones. Doug and Greg weren’t exactly secret about their relationship, at least not over the last couple years, and it has long been a matter of some bemusement among my circle of friends that DeVos’ chief political aide was gay and paired up with one of the most influential gay rights activists in the state.

MLive did an article about the Meeks-McNeilly wedding and it includes this:

McNeilly, 42, says he has been touched by the positive reactions to his nuptials more than a week ago.

Much of that support has come from within his own political party — and notably includes his bosses, Dick and Betsy DeVos, McNeilly said.

Michigan’s political power couple, whose families have collectively donated millions to efforts opposing gay marriage in Michigan and other states, shared their well wishes and excitement for McNeilly by email on the day of his marriage.

“Ironically, I’ve heard more from Democrats who don’t like seeing somebody from the opposite party out front on this issue,” McNeilly said.

I doubt that. I don’t think Democrats don’t like seeing a Republican out front on this issue. As a gay rights activist, I’m thrilled to see Republicans starting to change their tune, which is absolutely inevitable given the shifts in public opinion on the issue. And given Greg’s prominent place in Republican politics in the state, he’s the perfect guy to lead the fight he was reluctant to join until recently.

What is much more interesting to me is what this says about Dick and Betsy DeVos and about Greg’s defense of them and his reaction to all of this. They have spent the last decade spending vast sums of money to prevent marriage equality. They sent an email congratulating their aide on doing the very thing they have moved heaven and earth to prevent him from being able to do.

I’m sorry, I’m not going to buy the idea that they are not bigots because they sent a nice card to Greg and Doug. And deep down, no matter his financial ties to them or his personal fondness for them (or his for him, which I do not doubt is genuine), I doubt Greg does either. You don’t spend millions of dollars to deny equality to a group of people and then magically cleanse yourself of bigotry with a basket of fruit and a few kind words to someone you know personally.

You know what would convince me? If Dick DeVos put out a statement that went like this: “Greg and Doug’s example have shown me the error of my ways. We cannot in good conscience witness the shared humanity of our friend’s joy and deny that right to millions of others. From this day on, we will be funding efforts to overturn state bans on same-sex marriage and to bring equality at last to Michigan and the rest of the nation.” Until that happens, I’m not buying it.

Greg McNeilly is by all accounts of our mutual friends a kind and decent man, not to mention a really accomplished political consultant. When I heard that he and Doug got married, I was thrilled for both of them, and for all the other couples who got married and the many more still waiting to do so. It was a powerful symbol of how far we’ve come and of how far we still have to go. But we have had to fight the DeVos family’s money every step of the way. Their atonement can’t just be a kindly worded email.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • steve84

    The only thing these idiots are doing is enabling their oppressors who can then say “But I have gay friends”

  • cswella

    Laying the groundwork for later claims that republicans/christians have always supported gay marriage, and it was the democrats that were mired in the traditions.

  • besomyka

    I’m beginning to wonder if, like voter suppression laws, if this anti-gay animus isn’t really just purely partisan. That they fund horrible things like anti-gay laws just because it has been a wedge issue with which to get their own people into power.

    They may not be bigoted, just craven and amoral.

    Just. :/

  • Michael Heath

    The behavior by the DeVos is a perfect illustration of Bob Altemeyer’s findings on how social dominators behave. The fact millions of conservative Christians rally behind the influence of the conservative Christian movement’s leaders is also a perfect illustration of that group’s authoritarian devotion to their social dominators. So once again, kudos to Altemeyer.

    Now, what group will rise to #1 on the religious right’s list of who to hate, defame, and discriminate against? I think it will remain gay people for a good long while, at least in the private sphere. I see no avenue for them soon ending their hatred of gay people and the abuse of gay children from within their church walls.

  • http://cycleninja.blogspot.com cycleninja

    Dan Savage once pointed out that Rick Santorum also once had a gay chief of staff. How these people can NOT be seen as quislings by the queer community is beyond the reasonable.

  • moarscienceplz

    @#4 Michael Heath

    Yeah, I think I agree that authoritarianism and probably also an impaired sense of empathy are big factors in this. I once had an elderly neighbor, very anti-government spending and very bigoted. He had worked with a lady of Japanese-American descent who had been in an internment camp as a child during WWII, and when people were working on getting an apology and restitution from the Reagan administration, my neighbor was totally in favor of it. Yet I am sure that if he had never known that lady, he would have bitched and moaned about it being more government handouts to lazy greedy minorities.

  • http://festeringscabofrealityblogspot.com fifthdentist

    @ 1,

    Do they let them use the bathroom when they come over?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Now, what group will rise to #1 on the religious right’s list of who to hate, defame, and discriminate against?

    You mean after the n____rs? Pretty obvious that when that happens they’ll have been working the s__cs for a while. Whether they get around to the LGBT population is doubtful — unlike the brown folk, they’re well-distributed in the families of Real Americans™. Of course, so are sluts but they’re always in season because they make such convenient examples of “seeing the light” followed by guilt for the rest of their lives.

  • dingojack

    steve84 – With the greatest of respect,*, I think quite the contrary.

    When high ranking gay Republicans get married, it undermines the Religious Right’s ‘Marriage Equality is iccky’ ‘argument’ considerably, because it means they have to confront the issue that that gay people are people who are not any different (fundamentally) from themselves.

    Dimgo

    ======

    * By which I mean none at all, of course

  • colnago80

    Re cycleninja @ #5

    Not only that, ole Ricky was well aware of the fact that his chief of staff was gay and declined to give him the heave ho.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Having not met either of the happy grooms, I have no basis for an opinion about what happens between them – but I suspect that Doug Meeks needs to study up on the story about the frog and the scorpion.

  • cptdoom

    @besomyka #3 –

    I’m beginning to wonder if, like voter suppression laws, if this anti-gay animus isn’t really just purely partisan. That they fund horrible things like anti-gay laws just because it has been a wedge issue with which to get their own people into power.

    They may not be bigoted, just craven and amoral.

    I don’t think there’s any doubt at all that you are correct. Another commenter noted that even Santorum had an openly gay staffer, but he’s hardly the only right wing fundie with gay staffers. John McCain’s chief of staff and campaign manager was openly gay, and in a registered domestic partnership in DC, when he ran on an anti-gay marriage platform in 2008. In 2004 the RNC was run by a barely-closeted Ken Mehlman and the VP operations of the campaign were managed by the known lesbian Mary Cheney. These two were heavily involved in the strategy to use anti-gay marriage amendments to promote their candidates, and Mary Cheney reportedly led the effort to attack John Kerry for “outing” her in the final debate.

    “Ironically, I’ve heard more from Democrats who don’t like seeing somebody from the opposite party out front on this issue,” McNeilly said.

    I have no doubt he’s heard from pissed off Democrats, but it’s not because he’s “out in front” on the issue, it’s because his a quisling ready to throw his fellow LGBT people under the bus by working for people who fund anti-gay campaigns (whether driven by religion or politics, it does not matter). You see, when you participate, however peripherally, in the demonization, the dehumanization and the degradation of innocent citizens, it does not matter if you happen to be of the group that is attacked; you are still acting immorally. Mary Cheney probably got an earful from Democrats when she waltzed into DC, a jurisdiction in which she does not live and does not pay taxes, to take advantage of the marriage rights she helped deny others in her home state of VA.

  • eric

    What is much more interesting to me is what this says about Dick and Betsy DeVos and about Greg’s defense of them and his reaction to all of this.

    IMO it doesn’t say much interesting about the DoVos’. AIUI antebellum slaveowners regularly let the house slave have freedoms their other slaves did not. Its old news and not partularly surprising when bigots are wildly inconsistent in their bigotry as it is applied to individuals they know personally. As to what it says about Greg…that may be a little more problematical.

  • Nomad

    I still can’t get over something. Ed didn’t hesitate to call Devos a bigot. Greg worked for him for how long, knowing what his goals were? Ed says that Greg just wasn’t comfortable leading the fight for gay rights until now. Was he comfortable opposing gay rights until now? What sign has he given that he’ll be leading anything regarding gay rights? So far he just took advantage of the benefit that he worked to deny to every other gay person in the state. That makes him a hypocrite, not a leader of gay rights.

    Shall I just say it? Is Greg being excused because he was just following orders?

  • http://polrant@blogspot.com democommie

    “@ 1,

    Do they let them use the bathroom when they come over?”

    Only if it needs a makeover.

  • Chuck

    “When a Republican Gets Gay Married” needs to be a song. Can we get Roy Zimmerman on that?

  • dingojack

    Dear Chuck – Done!

    Dingo