On Gay Rights, Romney Should Look to Republican Women

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Republican women don’t get enough credit for promoting LGBT equality.

With "Julia" on the left and Ann Romney on the right, 2012's war for women voters is already off and running. At the same time, the issue of gay rights has taken center stage following the passage of North Carolina's "Amendment One" and the president's subsequent announcement of his support for marriage equality. The two issues are not unrelated. If Governor Mitt Romney wants to make a dent in the his persistent gender gap this campaign season -– a gap which currently stands at 16 points, according to the latest polls -- he should take heed of the leadership of Republican women on issues of LGBT equality.

Senator Susan Collins

For all of the accolades currently being heaped upon President Barack Obama, Republican women have been at the heart of much of the recent progress made by LGBT Americans. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) was the unsung hero of the "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" repeal, championing a stand-alone bill when it seemed that partisan gridlock had doomed any prospects of open service becoming a reality. In Washington State earlier this year, it was the moving testimony of GOP State Representative Maureen Walsh of Walla Walla that went viral, opening who knows how many hearts and minds to the idea that she should be able to throw that kid a wedding.

The House of Representatives is home to several pro-equality Republican champions. First and foremost, of course, is Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), the highest-ranking woman in the House, Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee and co-founder of the House LGBT Equality Caucus. Ros-Lehtinen is a co-sponsor of nearly every important piece of pro-equality legislation, including being the first Republican co-sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act, which will repeal the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act.

Also a member of the Equality Caucus, Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY) has stepped up as a freshman to co-sponsor important tax legislation that would save domestic partners thousands of dollars and encourage more businesses to offer health benefits to same-sex partners by ending the unfair "domestic partner penalty." Hayworth was recently profiled by the Wall Street Journal, where she expressed her tremendous love and pride for her openly gay son: "I love my son deeply because Will is Will," Ms. Hayworth said. "He's a marvelous person."

Today, Congresswoman Judy Biggert (R-IL) took to the House floor to fight for a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which would make it clear that nobody should be able to get away with domestic abuse just because the victim is gay or transgender, and nobody should be denied help in recovering from abuse. She was encouraged by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who released a statement saying, "We should not let politics pick and choose which victims of abuse to help and which to ignore."

The list goes on. Americans shouldn’t be surprised that many of the strongest advocates for LGBT equality are female. A clear majority of all women –- 56 percent –- support the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Maybe it’s because many women are mothers who would do anything to protect their children -- few mothers, when asked, are truly surprised when their children come out of the closet. Maybe it’s because women perceive the similarity between sexism and homophobia, both of which so often rest on disdain for the feminine. Maybe it’s because more women acknowledge having close gay friends.

Whatever the reason, women voters today want nothing to do with antigay politics, and female Republicans are leaders in the fight for freedom and fairness for all. Governor Romney, take note –- when you write off gay voters, you’re turning off women, as well.

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