NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Confrontational gay blogger Bruce Carroll will decide over the next six weeks whether he will become one of the first out Republicans to run for statewide office in the South, he said Thursday.
The bombastic blogger known as "Gay Patriot," who is weighing a challenge to South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in 2014, likely would run without the support of large segments of the LGBT community that has helped fund many out candidates' runs for office. And in the age of the blogger-politician, he may also have to account for some of his own words, on his blog and on Twitter.
"Personally, I think the gay progressives have wasted a lot of time and resources trying to die on the cross of the word 'marriage.' I think civil unions, potentially, could have been passed at the federal level, maybe even 10 years ago," Carroll told BuzzFeed in a cafe at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on Thursday, the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Before Carroll even gets to dealing with the substance of gay issues, however, he will first have to fact the question of whether a gay Republican could launch a realistic run for statewide office in South Carolina.
"The message that I've gotten from people involved in South Carolina politics is: Maybe this is the time, and maybe there are layers and layers of reasons why people might just not care," Carroll said. "I think I represent a consistent conservative voter in South Carolina, maybe on more issues than people know, in fact, based on what they know of me based on my social media profile. [Graham] needs to be held to account by his peers and his voters, and I think that I can do that effectively — and if I didn't think I could do that effectively, I wouldn't run."
Although earlier this week he said he would be making that decision by the end of the summer — hence, leading him to resign from the board of GOProud, which he co-founded — on Thursday he said the decision will come much more quickly.
"The equation for me is: Can I take a year out of my life dedicated to meeting all the residents of South Carolina, introducing myself to them and pointing out why I'm an alternative to the incumbent senator, and realistically, can I raise the kind of money that it would take to challenge him next year," he said. "It's unreasonable to think that you can do that campaign without starting very soon, so I expect a yes or no decision no later than mid-April — so about six weeks."
And, he will have to deal with his words. In the past month, for example, Carroll has tweeted up a storm. "I'd cut off your dole from Obama," he tweeted to Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown Law student who became a Democratic mainstay for her defense of contraceptive and reproductive rights. "Obama can relate to drug dealers since he was one," Carroll tweeted regarding a story about the president's pardons. Regarding an "off-leash" plan for dogs on Boston Common, Carroll added, "Barney Frank will still be leashed."
Although not addressing those tweets specifically, Carroll acknowledged in general that he does get out of hand at times.
"Now that I think about it, there are words that I shouldn't have used, that I wouldn't use as an official Senate candidate, and I don't use them a lot, but everyone zeroes in on the one thing that they find. And, they'll probably find that," he said. "I can't do that as a Senate candidate, but I don't think I should sap my personality for the sake of running for public office because that's an appeal. I can't hide my personality. I can refine my delivery a little bit, and I have the ability to do that, but I am who I am."
A gay candidate running in the South as the Supreme Court hears cases dealing with gay couples' marriage rights will have to explain his views on the issue. Rather than taking a position like conservative lawyer Ted Olson has taken in challenging California's Proposition 8, Carroll takes a more socially conservative view.
"I have been uncomfortable with the attempts to redefine marriage, and here's why: I think a church or religious institution should have the freedom or liberty to have the ceremonies they want in their own church or denomination." He did say, however, that some states have done a good job at trying to address that concern, noting, "I think the New Hampshire law is very good in its religious liberty protections. I would favor civil unions with very strong religious protections language."
Where does that leave Carroll on New Hampshire's marriage equality law?
"If my only choice, as a voter, was to vote for marriage with strong religious liberty protections, I would do that, too. My preference would be civil unions over redefining marriage, but I would vote for marriage with very strong religious liberty protections. I think it's a states' issue; I fundamentally think the voters should have a say in the matter, whether it's a direct vote or through their legislature; and I'm uncomfortable with courts mandating this because it is such an important issue — not only for gays, but for religious liberty reasons."
Carroll points to the Boy Scouts as an example he's seen of why he is concerned about churches' religious liberty being infringed. "The Boy Scouts are a private institution, and they've been forced to re-examine their position on including gays in the Boy Scouts through what I think is a very hard-handed manner over the past 10 years. I just don't want churches to go through the same thing the Boy Scouts have had to go through," he said.
As for what that means for the Defense of Marriage Act's federal definition of 'marriage,' which is being challenged in a case to be heard by the Supreme Court later this month, Carroll said, "I still fundamentally believe the word 'marriage' is a religious term used by a church of a covenant between a man, a woman and God, so I actually support DOMA as it is on the books because I think it helps move the topic now more cohesively to the states and allow the states to do flexibility."
Asked if that meant he supports a married same-sex couple in New Hampshire being treated differently than a married opposite-sex couple, he paused and said: "As you can tell, I'm struggling with this. I have my beliefs, I have my principles on the issue. I don't agree with the gay community on marriage. It's a tough call, but I would say right now that there are just so many layers of this that I think DOMA is practical in the type of environment we're in. In five years from now, I might have a different perspective. But, as we're here today, I think it's practical to keep DOMA in place while other things are playing out in the states."
Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.
Contact Chris Geidner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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