Mitt Romney's Appointment of Gay Aide Richard Grenell Signals New Attitude

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Last week, Mitt Romney hired Richard Grenell as his new foreign policy spokesman. Grenell was President Bush's communications director at the United Nations for eight years, and has been a spokesman for a handful of prominent Republicans such as George Pataki and Dave Camp.

Along with his qualifications, Grenell is  also gay.

When the campaign announced the hire, Grenell's sexual orientation wasn't noted in media coverage, nor, arguably, should it have been. He got in a bit of a tangle for scrubbing his Twitter profile to erase messages he wrote about Newt Gingrich and his wife, but that was about the only newsworthy development in the hiring announcement.

That is, until a  gay-bashing radio host at the American Family Association wrote in his blog that by appointing Grenell, Romney was telling the so-called pro-family community to "drop dead." CNN amplified that message from Bryan Fischer  by inviting him on for an interview.

"The homosexual agenda represents the single-greatest threat to religious liberty and freedom of association in America today," Fischer declared.

The problem, gay Republicans say, is not that homophobes like Fischer are still around  but  that a person's sexual orientation is still newsworthy enough to provide  a cheap story or mini-controversy.

Grenell isn't the first gay person Romney has hired, and he probably won't be the last.

"Bringing orientation into the matter is ludicrous," said R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, which supports gay and lesbian rights.  "I still can't figure out why it's such a big deal that Rick's orientation has been made a point, when he is not the first or last gay person to be hired by a Republican candidate or a Republican official."

Gay marriage advocates rejoiced this year when their movement gained ground, notably in Maryland, where lawmakers of both parties passed a bill to allow gay marriage. Republicans in particular saw it as evidence, reinforced by polling data, that more and more Americans were becoming more accepting of it.

Grenell's appointment also signaled that the Romney campaign had fully moved on from the primary in which the former Massachusetts governor vaulted to the right wing of his party to win conservative voters who were  less likely to support gay rights.

In a general election, however, being open to gay rights could even help Romney win some independent voters - especially against a president who has been timid about outright support of  gay marriage.

"Those younger voters that are oh so important to winning elections, those young voters who become future candidates themselves, they don't judge people on their orientation," Cooper,  who worked in the Bush administration on United Nations issues, said.

Fred Karger, a gay Republican activist who waged a long-shot bid for his party's presidential nomination, said he ran for president to show that "anyone should be able to work for any Republican regardless of sexual orientation.

"I think acceptance is there," he said. "People now, like Rick Grenell, can be out and working. And he was for eight years in the Bush administration, at a very high level with security clearance in the State Department.

"All we are striving for," said Karger, "is just to be accepted and treated no differently."