Commentary: What Scandal Gets Wrong About Gays and Republicans

There's no real-life context for a gay wedding in a Republican White House.

I've learned to watch television with what Samuel Taylor Coleridge once called a "willing suspension of disbelief." How else could you explain David Hasselhoff singing an '80s medley on American Idol this week? Some things on TV just don't make sense unless you let go of reality.

That's the same spirit with which I approach episodes of the popular TV show Scandal on Thursdays. It took some time for me, as a former White House aide, to suspend my knowledge of Washington politics when watching the show. But I knew my mind had stretched the boundaries of reality a few years ago during an episode in which the president of the United States personally (and inconceivably) murdered U.S. Supreme Court Justice Verna Thornton in her hospital bed.

Once you've accepted the idea of the president killing other U.S. government officials, anything else — rigging elections, interracial presidential affairs, super secret spy agencies beyond the control of the government — seems entirely plausible. Anything, that is, except this week's episode depicting a gay Republican wedding at the White House.


This is not so much a critique of Shonda Rhimes's Scandal but a reality check about today's GOP. I did not complain when the fictitious Republican President Fitzgerald Grant endorsed gun control or embraced the father of a Black child who had been killed by the police. (Scandal's Ferguson-inspired episode may have been its finest hour.)

Those episodes were powerful, even though it's been decades since any major Republican presidential candidate took such sensible positions on gun control or race relations. Yet it is still far more difficult to imagine a gay Republican White House chief of staff marrying his male prostitute fiancé at a White House Rose Garden ceremony in the presence of the president and first lady. That is a line my Black gay political mind cannot cross.

It's not that society hasn't changed or that television shouldn't push the culture to evolve. We've seen a great deal of change in the past few years since President Obama announced his support for marriage equality. BET's Being Mary Jane features an openly gay, sexually active Black male newscaster as a regular character. The FOX TV series Empire depicts an openly gay African-American singer rising to the top of the hip hop world. Even Scandal this season included a Black lesbian senior citizen (played beautifully by Marla Gibbs) distraught about the loss of her lifelong lover.

But we've got real life context for those characters. CNN's Don Lemon has become the most visible openly gay Black male newscaster on TV. Frank Ocean has become the most prominent Black male singer who is not heterosexual. And many Black families have an aunt or uncle who everyone knows has a "special friend" or roommate.

On the other hand, there is no context for any possibility of a gay wedding in a Republican White House, at least not in today's political climate. It was George W. Bush, after all, who ran his 2004 re-election campaign explicitly vowing to ban same-sex marriage. It was Mitt Romney who opposed gay marriage in his 2012 campaign. And it was Ted Cruz who launched his 2016 presidential campaign this week at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University by promising to "uphold the sacrament of marriage."

Even former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made history by publicly supporting his lesbian daughter Mary, declined to attend her wedding ceremony. If a prominent Republican with established social conservative credentials can't even attend his own daughter's nuptials, how on earth could any other Republican on the planet host a gay wedding ceremony at the White House?

Although polls show most Americans support the freedom to marry and the U.S. Supreme Court is widely expected to issue a historic ruling in favor of marriage equality this June, homophobia has remained entrenched in the platform of the modern GOP. No, it's not just Ted Cruz. Not one single Republican presidential candidate has come out in favor of marriage equality, and yet every likely Democratic candidate supports it.

The truth is the Republican Party is not a welcoming place for the LGBT community any more than it is for African-Americans or open-minded women. While our country is changing rapidly, today's Republicans remain stuck in some mythical past where women can't control their bodies, Blacks don't get to complain about racism and gays and lesbians aren't allowed to be treated equally. That's a problem that even the great Olivia Pope can't fix for them.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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