Who's better on gay rights, Mitt Romney or Barry Goldwater?

Richard Grenell had the right resume to be Mitt Romney's spokesman on foreign policy -- a stint as communications director for four of the Bush administration's U.N. ambassadors; a degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government; his own international PR firm and frequent stints on TV as an expert on international issues. Too bad for him he has a boyfriend.

Mr. Grenell was the first openly gay spokesman for a presidential candidate, but he never got to speak. Before he even officially started the job, enraged homophobes in the so-called pro-family community spooked Mr. Romney's campaign staff. The campaign aides tried to stuff Mr. Grenell into a metaphorical closet until things blew over. During a major conference call with reporters in which President Barack Obama's national security policies were dissected, Mr. Grenell was forced to sit in silence.

On May 1, Mr. Grenell quit his job.

The Romney campaign folks say they tried hard to convince Mr. Grenell to stay. But they were too timid and too cowed by the religious right to do what he asked them to do: let him do his job.

From the perspective of the campaign, it seemed like a good idea to wait until the controversy faded and not let Mr. Grenell become the focus of attention instead of their candidate. But no matter how long they kept him in the background, the day would come when Mr. Grenell would end up on TV delivering Mr. Romney's foreign policy message. As soon as that happened, the wing nuts, snake handlers and talk radio gasbags would pounce.

The problem is not Mr. Grenell's views on international affairs, which are pure Republican; it is his outspoken support of gay marriage. Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association's tweeting Savonarola, told his Twitter followers that, by hiring Mr. Grenell, Mr. Romney was telling pro-family conservatives to "drop dead." A National Review columnist predicted Mr. Grenell would quickly switch sides and support Mr. Obama if the president came out in favor of same-sex marriage. The Family Research Council's Tony Perkins raised the fear that Mr. Grenell would use his position to establish "sexual orientation" as a basic human right. (As opposed to what, a capital crime?)

As Americans become more accepting of homosexuality, the literalist wing of Christianity becomes more freaked out. Sean Harris, pastor of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., recently got himself media attention when he said to the men in his congregation, "Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch."

As far as I know, Richard Grenell's wrists are firm. I can't say the same about Mr. Romney and his team. Mr. Romney is about to become the leader of his party and, perhaps, leader of the free world. It would be nice to see him man up and tell the medieval wing of his party that they will not dictate to him about whom he hires to run his foreign policy. Instead, as he has for months on the campaign trail, Mr. Romney continues to suck up to the anti-gay religious activists, most of whom find his Mormon beliefs repugnant.

Barry Goldwater would not have dumped Mr. Grenell; he would have told the carping Bible thumpers to go to hell.

The man who was once the voice of American conservatives slammed Pat Robertson for "trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it." When Jerry Falwell opposed the appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court, Goldwater said, "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the n----." And, of gays in the military, Goldwater said, "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar."

After his retirement from the Senate, Goldwater warned that his party was being taken over by a "bunch of kooks." Well, the kooks are in charge now and Mitt Romney knows who is boss.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

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