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.
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.