Washington, D.C. – During the 2004 elections, George W. Bush’s campaign, managed by a closeted gay man, pushed a series of anti-gay ballot initiatives across the country. The House of Representatives, led by a male speaker who allegedly sexually assaulted a male minor, moved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage after beating back attempts to strengthen hate crimes legislation. And the White House, led in part by a vice president with a lesbian daughter, eagerly encouraged a conservative evangelical base hostile to gay rights.
Though only slightly over a decade ago, that election seems increasingly like the relic of a far-off era as the country moves closer toward acceptance of legalizing marriage equality nationwide. But it’s being revisited in light of recent revelations that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) may have sexually abused at least two male students during his time as a high school teacher and wrestling coach, and later lied to the FBI about the hush money he was paying one of them.
Hastert wasn’t a strident culture warrior during his time in Congress. But he was a vital cog in the anti-gay political machinery that the GOP deployed for political benefit. And now it appears his involvement carried the same elements of duplicity and deceit as that of other Republican operatives of that era.
“The hypocrisy is breathtaking in its depth,” said Elizabeth Birch, former president of the Human Rights campaign, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. As speaker of the House from 1999 to 2007, Hastert didn’t just go along and vote the party line on various bills; he decided which pieces of legislation made it to the floor for a vote. During his tenure, he was a clear foe of the LGBT community.