Former Republican National Committee chairman and Bush-Cheney campaign manager Ken Mehlman has announced publicly that he is gay, CBS News chief political consultant and politics editor for The Atlantic Marc Ambinder reports.
"It's taken me 43 years to get comfortable with this part of my life," Mehlman said. "Everybody has their own path to travel, their own journey, and for me, over the past few months, I've told my family, friends, former colleagues, and current colleagues, and they've been wonderful and supportive. The process has been something that's made me a happier and better person. It's something I wish I had done years ago, but I didn't."
Mehlman was RNC chairman from 2005 to 2007 after serving as Bush-Cheney campaign manager in 2004. He also served as White House political director during President Bush's first term.
Mehlman told Ambinder that he had recently come to the conclusion that he is gay and was looking to become an advocate for gay marriage. He went public in part because he expected to be asked about his sexuality when it became known he was participating in a fundraiser next month for the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), which is supporting a legal challenge to California's Proposition 8 initiative banning gay marriage.
Mehlman said President Bush "is no homophobe" but acknowledged that the Bush administration used antigay initiatives for political gain. In private conversations with senior Republicans, he said, he fought back against attempts to demonize same-sex marriage.
Activist Mike Rogers, as Ambinder notes, has waged a years-long campaign to force Mehlman out of the closet, including confronting him with questions about his sexuality on video. (Mehlman regularly denied that he was gay.) Rogers responded to the news that Mehlman was coming out by awarding him a "Roy Cohn Award" for "managing the most anti-gay presidential campaigns in history."
"Ken Mehlman is horridly homophobic and no matter how orchestrated his coming out is, our community should hold him accountable for his past," Rogers wrote.
Mehlman told Ambinder he understands that some people in the gay community will be upset that he did not come out until he was out of government.
"I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that. It was very hard, personally," he said. He acknowledged that if he had come to terms with his sexual orientation earlier, "I could have worked against [the Federal Marriage Amendment]" and "reached out to the gay community in the way I reached out to African Americans."