Slate’s William Saletan focuses on the impact Mehlman’s coming out could have on the current debate.

Many influential Republicans have worked with him and respect him. He makes it harder for them to think of homosexuality as a behavior. They now know somebody who is gay. Or, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, they now know that they know somebody who is gay.

… if you look at polls over the last 30 or 40 years, two factors have been driving public opinion in the direction of gay rights. One is whether you know someone who’s openly gay. More and more people do, and those who do are more tolerant of homosexuality. The other factor is whether you think it’s involuntary. This belief, too, has increased over time, and tolerance has increased with it. It’s pretty hard to imagine that the guy who ran the GOP during its recent campaigns against gay marriage would come out as homosexual unless he felt he had no choice. This is simply who he is.

Some of the most thorough reporting comes from The Advocate’s website, where writers Kerry Eleveld and Andrew Harmon survey Mehlman’s past before examining his potential as a game-changing political force in the gay marriage debate.

“I have spent no time thinking about where Ken was four-to-five-to-six years ago. I’m just thankful that he’s with us today,” said Chad Griffin, co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the organization that’s solely funding the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 in federal court brought by former Bush solicitor general Ted Oslon and progressive legal eagle David Boies.

“He is one of the most brilliant political strategists from the Republican side of the aisle,” said Griffin, “and he is also a master fundraiser and brings contacts and relationships to bear that are comparable to almost no one.”

…As Steve Elmendorf, a Washington Democratic political operative, observed, “Ted Olson brought incredible credibility to the legal case, Ken can bring incredible credibility to our political case and send the message that being on the right side of this issue is not going to cost you politically.”

Not all in the LGBT community are welcoming Mehlman and his strategist credentials into the fold. His mea culpa with Ambinder has not been enough for fiery blogger Joe My God, for example, who pointed to Mehlman’s “crimes against his own people” and called the former RNC chair a “Repulsive Anti-Gay Quisling Homophobic Scumbag.” Mike Rogers at BlogActive writes:

Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past.


I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for being the architect of the 2004 Bush reelection campaign. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for his role in developing strategy that resulted in George W. Bush threatening to veto ENDA or any bill containing hate crimes laws. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for the pressing of two Federal Marriage Amendments as political tools. I want to hear from Ken that he is sorry for developing the 72-hour strategy, using homophobic churches to become political arms of the GOP before Election Day.

The language is intemperate and charged, and the laying of blame too singly focused. But the bloggers are hitting a legitimate point. Here is a man who’s operated at the center of a machine that has taken stands against the person he now realizes he is, and everyone else like him. And while he claims to have struggled with his sexuality for a long time—he tells Ambinder, for forty-three years—and wishes he had have realized sooner so that he might have worked against the Federal Marriage Amendment while in power, Mehlman’s sexuality is said by some to be one of the “worst kept secrets in Washington.” It’s surfaced nationally before, as well. Bill Maher outed him on Larry King in 2006 and Mehlman was fingered in the partisan documentary, “Outrage,” which argued closeted lawmakers worked against gay rights to conceal their own sexuality.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.