Although Romney and his staff publicly stood by Grenell and encouraged him to stay, he stepped aside.
“Our campaign hires staff based on their qualification for the job,” said Andrea Saul, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor. “Gov. Romney has spoken out on intolerance, saying there is no room for that in our party.”
Zach Wyatt, a Republican state representative in Missouri, said gay Republicans needed to have a conversation with members of their own party.
“If you don’t say anything, they’re going to think they’re going the right way all the time,” he said.
Surrounded by colleagues from both parties at a news conference earlier this month, Wyatt, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran, denounced Republican-sponsored legislation that would have prohibited public schools from discussing sexual orientation in the classroom, which was known in Missouri and other states as a “don’t say gay” bill. But Wyatt wasn’t finished. In the same news conference, he came out, making him the only openly gay Republican state legislator in office in the country.
“Members of my own party and members on the other side say it’s interesting how the mindset is changing,” Wyatt said.
Obama’s announcement last week is a reminder that Democrats historically have come to support gay-rights causes ahead of Republicans, leading a generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voters to identify strongly with the party.
At the same time, social conservatives who opposed gay rights came to dominate the Republican Party, making it difficult for gay Republicans to speak up. But as social issues have become secondary to economic and national security issues, gay Republicans are finding their voice.
“I think people need to realize that you’ll never have true equality unless you have advocates on both sides of the aisle,” Tisei said.
To be sure, Democrats don’t always vote in favor of gay rights. When the House of Representatives voted in December 2010 to end the military’s ban on openly gay service members, 15 Democrats voted to keep it. Meanwhile, an equal number of Republicans in the House and eight in the Senate voted to end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
Jerame Davis, the executive director of Stonewall Democrats, a gay rights group, acknowledges that some Republicans are better on gay rights issues than some Democrats are.
“We know there are Democrats who aren’t all the way there on LGBT equality,” he said.
Four Republicans in the House and three in the Senate are co-sponsors of legislation to protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination. One Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, supports repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. A law to allow same-sex marriage in New York wouldn’t have passed last year if not for four Republican state senators.
However, a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage has 27 co-sponsors in the House, all Republicans.
“Perhaps some elements in the party are changing,” Davis said. “I definitely don’t envy their position. There’s still a lot of work to bring the Republican Party into the 21st century.”