At 24, Patrick Killen is a seasoned veteran of New Mexico politics. He started working as a legislative page in Santa Fe when he was 15 and today operates a political consulting company working exclusively for Republicans. He's a true-blooded party loyalist who has nothing but respect and admiration for President George W. Bush. Killen also happens to be gay, which in some circles of his party makes him as popular as a skunk at a church picnic. How does Killen reconcile his personal life with his political loyalties? Read on.
You're a young Republican building a career in politics. How did this affect your decision to openly admit you are gay?
There comes a point in your life when you can't continue to live with the fear of what other people are going to think. It started among my friends and branched out to co-workers. The support among people closest to me has been amazing. I felt like in the Republican Party, as I said before, the opposition to gay people is not widespread, but there is a small group who are very loud in their opposition to gay and lesbian Americans. And I felt that I needed to be an example. On a lot of issues I'm just as conservative as they are, but I happen to be gay. That doesn't make me less of an American and it certainly doesn't make me less of a Republican, in my opinion. I felt unless I came out in the Republican Party and people knew me and got to know me, this type of fear-mongering and anger coming from a small group of people would continue. I could not sit by and watch people tear down good Republicans, good Americans.
When you came out, what was the reaction from your colleagues?
I came out in 2002. I received great support from my friends. I just decided that if more gay people don't come out, we'll continue to see problems in society. And, by coming out, hopefully I can be a positive example, especially for people in the Republican Party. Since there's been so much anti-gay rhetoric unfortunately in the party, I felt it was important for me to come out and show people that gays and lesbians are part of the American family.
A recent Gallup Poll showed that 70 percent of Republicans support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and only 28 percent oppose. In comparison, 53 percent of Americans support the amendment, while 44 percent oppose. Why do you think, generally speaking, people in the Republican party seem to be more anti-gay compared to the Democratic Party and American society as a whole?
You know, I think the most important thing for gays and lesbians everywhere in America is to come out. The more people come out and see they have gay brothers and sisters, friends and co-workers, the intolerance will begin to go away. Within the Republican Party there are many wings. You've got many good Republicans like New York Gov. George Pataki and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other elected officials that recognize people for their accomplishments and contributions to society. And, you know, there are other parts of the party that are not as accepting.
Is anyone in the New Mexico congressional delegation supporting the amendment?
As I recall Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson said they support it. I'm not sure about (Rep. Steve) Pearce. (Rep. Tom) Udall is definitely opposed to it. As far as New Mexico goes, Heather Wilson was endorsed by Log Cabin Republicans in 2002. She has spoken passionately about issues like gay adoption.
What has she said?
Well, she believes every child should have the ability to be raised in a loving, caring home. She gave a speech on the floor of the House that talked about that.
So she supports gay couples adopting children?
Well, I think that she opposed legislation that would have prevented that.
Isn't that the same thing?
As far as her level of activity on that issue, I'm not sure. I just know that she opposed legislation that would have banned gay and lesbian couples from adopting children.
You have 12 Republican congressional members on your board of advisors for the national Log Cabin Republicans. Is Wilson one of them?
No, she's not.
Have you asked her to be?
I'm not a part of the national office, so they are different from the local chapter. I haven't given it any thought. That's something that comes from the national board.
You're 24. The executive director of Log Cabin Replicans in Washington, D.C., is 27. It seems the majority of members involved in the organization are young. Where are the older gay Republicans?
There are three or four older—I don't like to speculate on someone's age—in our local chapter. A great deal are younger. I think a lot of that is they have the energy and they want to be involved with these issues. You know, when you're younger, you are more radical and you want to get out and fight for what you believe in. Our members are diverse. We have young and old, straight and gay. So we are all good Republicans who want to see the party focus on fiscal conservative issues and win, instead of focusing on divisive social issues that cause us to lose elections.
How do you reconcile your support for Bush, when he voices opposition to who you are?
President Bush is a good man. I've met him on three or four occasions working on campaigns. He's done fundraisers for campaigns I've worked on. He's a man who values what an individual can bring to society. Unfortunately he's chosen to pursue this constitutional amendment. I don't believe that he is a homophobic person. It's a real tough issue, because I know so many people that have worked for his campaign and his administration who are dedicated supporters.
Are they openly gay?
Some are, some aren't. He's always treated them with respect. He has gay friends. Laura Bush has gay friends. They've invited them and their partners to his ranch. He's appointed more openly gay officials than any other Republican president.
Clearly the poll numbers show the GOP as a whole supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. If he's not homophobic, then do you think Bush is just playing to the polls?
I think you can have respect for a person and not agree with them on every issue. He has taken a position that personally I disagree with and the Log Cabin Republicans disagree with. We're going to continue to disagree with that position, even while a great deal of us will support other things he's done. We are not a single-issue organization. We are committed to telling the party that gays and lesbians are part of the American family and we are loyal Republicans.
In 2000, six million evangelical Christians stayed home on election day. Based on exit polling, one million gay Republicans voted for Bush (an estimated 25 percent of gays that voted). We have never used voting as blackmail and said we are going to stay home on election day. Other groups have. We are loyal, committed Republicans who work hard for the party. We just want to reach out to people in the party and tell them we are part of the American family.
What if it turns out to be a long, difficult battle and you are not being accepted, but instead vilified by President Bush, if only in subtle ways, for political gain? Will you continue to support him?
As for me, I will never give up the fight to make the Republican Party more inclusive. Republicans win with a big tent strategy. President Bush won in 2000 with a compassionate conservative strategy and inclusive message. Recent events have unfortunately tarnished some people's views on that. So many of my friends that are Democrats and happen to be gay say ’Why do you put up with that constantly?' I say I can effect more change in the Republican Party from inside, than from outside. The Republican Party is my home, and I'm not going anywhere.
If you keep helping local Republicans win elections, you're not going to have to go anywhere.
That's right. People need to recognize a person needs to be judged on their abilities. As long as I work hard, people will see the value in the services I provide.
What was it like growing up in Clovis?
Well, I didn't come out until I was 22 and attending UNM.
Did you feel repressed, angry or guilt-ridden at who you were?
Yeah, it's a struggle that so many people face. Eventually, you stop worrying and start living. In Clovis, a person might generally remain in the closet.
Until they leave.
Right. Should I have come out earlier in my life? Do I regret that I didn't? Yeah. But I made a decision and my life has been better for it.
Talk about the local Log Cabin Republican chapter.
We had our first meeting planned the day after the president came out with the marriage amendment announcement back in February. Our kick-off meeting had about 25 members and we elected officers in March. We meet each month and we are just building the organization. It's the right time to do it with all that is going on.
Let's talk politics. You said you support Bush on the war on terror. It seems to me, humiliating the entire Arab world with those Abu Ghraib photos is not exactly a winning strategy.
I think there are some concerns. I'm more of a libertarian Republican when it comes down to it. I know there are concerns with the Patriot Act. But compared to before 9-11, I think Americans are safer and a lot of people I know feel that way. I know there is a lot of disagreement over that. At this point in time, I just think Bush is the right person to lead our country on security issues.
OK, but you didn't address my statement. What has the administration done that is worth getting excited about, considering what has transpired in Iraq?
Well the establishment of Homeland Security Department and the increased vigilance when it comes to terrorism domestically. We are a different country now post 9-11. I believe what Secretary (Tom) Ridge has done ...
What has he done?
He's keeping Americans more alert with terror alert levels. Stepping up airport security.
The fiscal conservative issue: We have a federal deficit nearing $500 billion, forcing the government to borrow money from China and other countries to keep the federal government running. How are we going to pay off these debts in the future? That seems to be a question the Bush administration isn't all that concerned about.
A lot of Republicans are appalled with the deficit and the way the administration has been spending money. I think any president who leads the country after terrorist attacks would face problems the current administration has been facing. September 11 was devastating to the American economy, but it's on the rebound and I think the deficit will begin to take care of itself. I think Congress needs to take a serious look at spending. The major reason I am a Republican is because of fiscal conservatism. I realize there are many challenges that the president has had to face. Fighting the war is not cheap.
Not cheap? It would be nice to know what it's going to cost before it reaches a trillion dollars?
It's unchartered territory.
It would be nice if someone would start charting it in the Pentagon accounting office.
As far as the president's decision to cut taxes, I believe Americans should be able to keep more of what they earn and that's why I support it. There are people that disagree on these issues.
Why do you think people with differing opinions have such a hard time discussing politics with civility?
So many people find enjoyment in tearing other people down when they happen to disagree with them. However, in my case, does every Republican I work with agree with me? No. We can agree to disagree, though, and focus on things that unite us rather than divide us. President Bush talked about being a uniter not a divider, and I think the marriage amendment—part of the reason I oppose it—is divisive. We need to pull together and we need to do more talking than fighting.
What would you say to gays or lesbians that don't openly admit their sexual orientation?
I would say come out. It's not as bad as you think it is going to be. I thought my friends would abandon me. I thought I would lose contracts and jobs working for Republicans. That has not been the case. Facing adversity from small groups of people is part of life. Anything you do, there will be people trying to fight you, especially if you are standing up for what you believe in and fighting for change. But I would say, if you are in the closet, come out, because you will be a happier, healthier person.
Who are your political heroes?
Good question. Gary Johnson would be one. I think as governor, he always stood up for what he believed in. He ranks up there. Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform. Not only because he fights for tax cuts and keeps elected officials responsible on that issue. ... He's definitely not anti-gay. He's a big tent Republican. As long as you are supportive of responsible tax and spending issues, he doesn't care about sexual orientation. He has disagreed publicly about the federal marriage constitutional amendment.
So no civil rights leaders like Ghandi, Martin Luther King, César Chávez?
Well that's a tough question. You really need to think about it. Milton Freidman, a more libertarian conservative would be another. I like his philosophy on government. The fact that government can't solve all the world's problems. I strongly believe in that. John Dendahl—he gets a lot of flak, but talk about a guy who gets beaten down but fights for what he believes in. I think anybody that stands up and is willing to be a lone voice is a person who should be admired. Barry Goldwater is another one—as he grew older in life he especially spoke out on issues of gay and lesbian equality.
Wouldn't he be rolling in his grave over the Patriot Act?
I think he would be. I've worked with a lot of conservatives that do have concerns with the Patriot Act, but if you're concerned with that, talk to your representative and try to right it.
Let's go back to the "radical right" question. Let me read to you these quotes from the Log Cabin website: "For the sake of our children and society, we must oppose the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery! Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to 'breed' is to recruit! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!" That was Don Wildmon from the American Family Association
Here's another: "The family unit is under attack by dark and conspiring forces who desire to redefine the bond of marriage to include same-sex partners. This design is an abomination of nature and, if adopted by society as normative, will ultimately lead to society's downfall and destruction." This is attributed to an organization called American Society for the Preservation of the Family.
When you think about groups opposing gay and lesbian organizations fighting for equality, unfortunately, you see a lot of evangelical Christians on that side. However, I make this clear at every opportunity: I am a practicing Christian. I'm a member of a church. I am welcomed in that church. I was raised in a church and I have not left the church. I believe part of being a Christian is following Christ and being Christ-like. I think when you dedicate so much energy to tearing down people because of who they love or who they might be, it does not make you a Christian. It's just unfortunate that so many people that consider themselves Christian can turn around and not be Christ-like. However, there are a lot of good Christians.
Where do you think the anti-gay rhetoric stems from?
They are scare tactics. Some people have an agenda to pursue. I think these people should spend more time reading the Bible and learn the teachings of Christ.
If the so called "radical right" are evangelical Christian groups, I'd bet they do spend a lot of time reading the Bible. And if the Bible is open to interpretation and some of these folks insist an American culture war should be fought to renounce homosexuals, what is going to change their mind?
Like I said, I was baptized when I was 13 years old—religion is such a wide scope, and we're talking about just certain evangelical Christians here. I have read the Bible ... I would just like to ask them where in the Bible it says ... I've asked them to pull from the New Testament, which is what many evangelical Christians base their religion on, pull from the New Testament where Jesus Christ said homosexuality is wrong. I've gotten into many debates on this, and they can't answer it for me. He taught love.
Unfortunately a lot of the people that attack gay people don't know any gay people. That's why it's important for more gay people to come out and get to know people in their religious groups and in the Republican Party and Democratic Party. You know, get to know others so they see we are taxpaying, decent, law-abiding citizens. If more people were to come out, on this issue, this country would become a better place. When a person is judged on their merits, rather than on what others perceive of them, that's when some real change is going to occur, especially among evangelical Christians.
In any group you have elements that are more adamant than others. But the most important thing that Log Cabin wants to do is get the Republican Party to focus on issues that win. Those are the fiscal issues. Right here in New Mexico during the primary last week, Earlene Roberts, (a Republican state representative for the past 14 years running for re-election in southern New Mexico) made her opposition to gay marriage one of her top issues. In a conservative district, she lost 60-40 percent. Her opponent focused on fiscal issues and Roberts' voting record. Republicans win when they run on issues that unite people and don't divide.
Do you see the constitutional amendment as divisive? It has majority support in the GOP.
I do see it as divisive. Log Cabin Republicans oppose any move that would write discrimination into the constitution. We believe that the constitution is a sacred document that guarantees the rights of Americans and doesn't take them away. We respectfully disagree with the president on this issue and have been actively fighting the forces that have been pushing for it.
Are Log Cabin Republicans, their friends, family and supporters so upset with Bush's position that they'll either stay home on election day, or vote for Kerry or someone else?
I attended the Log Cabin Republican national convention in Palm Springs on April 15. I met members from around the country. Log Cabin has not taken an official position on the presidential race, yet. A great majority of members are very upset. However they are still supportive of President Bush on other conservative issues, like the war on terror and cutting taxes. There are members that are so upset and devastated by the president's support for this amendment that they are not supporting him. Personally, I'm still supportive of him.
The Log Cabin website quotes Vice President Dick Cheney, speaking during the 2000 presidential campaign, opposing the federal government getting involved in the gay marriage issue.
Yes, in the 2000 vice presidential debate, when asked about his position on gay marriage and whether there should be a federal policy in that area, he said he did not believe there should be a federal policy.
Well, if Cheney is the guy really calling the shots, as some people think, how do you explain that Bush has a different view?
The vice president is a loyal vice president to President Bush. Just from what I've heard about the Cheney family, he is very loving and accepting of his daughter [an avowed lesbian].
Didn't he deny she was a lesbian, even after she was open about it?
I think his wife did. His position in 2000 is obviously different from his position now.
What is his position now?
He supports the president and the constitutional amendment.
He's a flip-flopper?
He's being a loyal vice president. I just know that we agreed with what Vice President Cheney said in 2000—that states should be able to decide what to do on this issue. Also the defense of marriage act signed by President Clinton in 1996 says that one state doesn't have to recognize another state's marriage laws. That's already federal policy, so the constitutional amendment is not needed. And, it's unnecessarily divisive, especially in a presidential election year.
Talk about the Log Cabin Republican television ads.
We were actually one of seven states that they first started running ads in. They have so far expanded to California, Arizona, Washington and Colorado. The intent is not out to attack Bush or to try to tear down what he's been accomplishing. We want to talk about the fact that in 2000 Cheney did express his view that there should not be a federal policy regarding gay marriage. Log Cabin Republicans wanted to remind the administration of that.
Let's talk about the state Legislature. In 2003 the Human Rights Act was amended to include language banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2003 it was passed. There was a clause added to the human rights amendment stating that this provision did not apply to businesses with 15 or fewer employees. Unfortunately that provision allowed for discrimination based on sexual orientation and also race, age, gender and so on. So the Legislature came back in 2004, state Sen. Manny Aragon set up a compromise provision that does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation for businesses with 15 or fewer employees.
As a result, there is a statewide petition drive to get a referendum on the upcoming ballot to repeal this law.
Yes, but Attorney Gen.Patricia Madrid recently ruled the petition signatures gathered last year cannot be used to get the referendum on the ballot this year. The forces that are trying to repeal the non-discrimination legislation wanted to use the signatures from a previous campaign, but now they can't.
Is the referendum being organized within the state Republican party?
I know a lot of people pushing for it are not necessarily active Republicans. They are people that disagree with the law. However, the legislation was passed by both the House and Senate, has passed now twice. It received support from Dems and Republicans alike in the Legislature. I think across New Mexico and across the country people believe any kind of discrimination is wrong.
Have you personally encountered any discrimination?
There has been hostility from members of the Gay community, hostile to me being in the Republican party, and hostility from a small few in the Republican Party.
What kind of hostility?
Just, you know, people threatening to send mailers out in campaigns I've worked on, saying that this candidate has a gay campaign manager. It's never been fully executed.
How would you react to that if it ever happened?
I would hope that a person would judge a candidate on their abilities and own issues and that people would see through a personal attack on a loyal staffer. The great deal of Republicans I've worked for, will work for and am friends with in the Republican Party certainly don't care about my sexual orientation. Unfortunately, there's a small group of people, just like you would have with any group, that try to cause problems. I'm not going to spend my life sitting around worrying about it. I have jobs to do, people to get elected and I'm going to do that.
Let's talk about the Sandoval County marriage license controversy. Do you support Republican County Clerk Victoria Dunlap's willingness to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?
If the County Clerk broke a state law, she needs to be dealt with appropriately. However, I don't think there is anything shameful about stirring the debate about marriage equality. As a conservative, I believe that we should follow the laws. However, the County Clerk has certainly helped start a major debate in New Mexico and that's a debate we need to have.
The Sandoval County GOP chairman said something to the effect that the only way to effectively remove Dunlap from the Republican Party would be to assassinate her. Even if he wasn't suggesting that as an option, just using that language in a heated debate makes him sound like a jackass, don't you think?
That was chairman Richard Gibbs, who is a good man, but he got a little out of control. He's a good guy, but an outspoken person. It was unfortunate that he made those comments, but like I said, if the County Clerk broke the law, deal with it. However, a straight member of the Log Cabin Republicans was serving on the Sandoval County Central Committee that voted to censure her, and he was the lone voice of dissent because he believed the censure motion would be viewed as anti-gay.
It was an anti-gay statement, wasn't it?
Well, I thought that our member was right in what he did.