by Ali Gharib and Eli Clifton
If you had to narrow down Republican megadonor Paul Singer’s three main causes, the list would probably look like this: deregulating the market, pushing a hawkish outlook on the Middle East, and, surprisingly for such a staunch conservative, supporting pro-gay marriage stance. In the 2016 presidential race, though, Singer seems to have abandoned the last of the three—and apparent fissures are opening up with other pro-gay Republicans.
Last month, Singer anointed Marco Rubio as his chosen GOP contender. No doubt the millions that Singer is known for dumping into political causes will follow in short order. Rubio certainly embraces the first two points of Singer’s agenda: he expresses a neoconservative-tinged view of the Middle East and has proposed steps to gut regulation of American businesses.
But on the third issue—gay rights—Rubio is an ill fit. In fact, it’s worse: Rubio is a retrograde anti-gay politician. According to the Human Rights Campaign’s dossier, he opposes a raft of gay rights positions, going well beyond simple opposition to gay marriage. Rubio is against discrimination protections for LGBT Americans and allowing LGBT parents to adopt children.
According to the well-publicized story, Singer was, by his own admission, not very good on gay rights. Then his son came out to him and that changed everything: “He eventually became a steadfast supporter of gay rights,” CNN reported of Singer. CNN goes on:
In 2012, he launched the American Unity PAC, which aims to persuade fellow conservatives to support same-sex marriage. He has actively supported same-sex marriage campaigns and makes large donations to LGBT groups.
“I became very enthusiastic about his efforts to stop discrimination,” Singer told the Davos conference in 2014.
Singer has followed up with his pocketbook, contributing over $5.5 million since 2012 to the American Unity PAC and, in 2013, a $500,000 contribution to the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBT civil rights advocacy group.
In 2013, The Washington Post landed a rare interview with Singer, albeit by e-mail. Singer told the paper that he was “heartened” by the progress of the gay rights movement in “both parties,” and he hoped that Republicans willing to take a pro-gay rights position would have “like-minded friends, activists and party leaders who will stand with them.”
The Post article had come after two Republican Senators had announced their support for gay marriage, prompting the Republican National Committee to issue a statement reaffirming its opposition. In contrast to that public spat, the Post described Singer’s effort as “influencing the debate more quietly.”
When it comes to influencing Rubio on these issues, however, Singer seems to have been so quiet that Rubio didn’t even hear him. In a conversation with a group of evangelical pastors in Iowa, Rubio was challenged on taking money from Singer. “How do I know that he’s not going to direct you, that he’s not going to sway a large amount of influence over you because he has fought vehemently for same-sex marriage and now he’s backing you,” one pastor asked, with poor syntax. “What is it that he sees in you that he doesn’t see in somebody else?”
This is honest, this is the truth. Mr. Singer has never ever tried to change my mind or deeply discuss with me the issue. He knows where I stand on the issue. He’s quite frankly largely motivated in politics not so much by the marriage issue, he feels strongly about that issue and is on record as such but the thing that actually motivates him in politics is his association with the Federalist Society, his belief in federalism and also his support of the state of Israel. To the extent that I’ve discussed issues with him those are largely the ones.
According to Rubio, then, Singer, despite pledging support to Rubio that no doubt affords him special access to the candidate, barely even raises LGBT issues with the would-be GOP presidential nominee. What kind of funder hoping to foment change among Republicans would ignore an opportunity to tell the man he wants to lead the party that the time for bigoted stances against LGBT Americans has passed? Apparently the Paul Singer kind of funder.
Forsaking His Own Son
Singer basically isn’t pressuring Rubio to be better on gay rights issues. That leads us exactly where one might expect: Rubio keeps hawking retrograde anti-LGBT policies. Take, for example, Rubio’s recent comments to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Rubio told the televangelist channel that, if elected president, he would undo LGBT anti-discrimination policies put in place by Barack Obama as an executive order as well as seek to appoint justices to the Supreme Court that would not make “constitutionally flawed” decisions like the one that legalized gay marriage.
Rubio had previously said that the ruling that legalized gay marriage was the law of the land that, in a republic, needed to be respected. But talking to CBN, he insisted that legal gay marriage was “current law; it is not settled law,” explaining that such a status “doesn’t mean that we don’t aspire to fix it because we think it’s wrong.” (He offered mixed messages on whether, for the time being, public servants should be able to disobey the law because of their religious beliefs.)
Here’s the saddest part of Singer’s quiet-to-the-point-of-silent advocacy on gay rights when it applies to Rubio: Singer’s son Andrew stands to potentially lose rights under the administration of a man whom his father supports. Most astoundingly, this is not a hypothetical issue. Andrew Singer married his partner in 2009 in Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage back in 2004. Rubio would have the privileges bestowed on that union by federal law whisked away.
Like the two gay New York City entrepreneurs who (briefly) supported Ted Cruz, Singer is willing to strike an ugly Faustian bargain. He is willing to forsake something he cares deeply about—gay rights, and his own son—to achieve his other political aims, whether deregulating financial markets or push Middle East policy in a hawkish, right-wing direction.