Ever since President Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis released her letter arguing that her father would have been pro-LGBT, speculation on Reagan’s LGBT leanings have been rampant. Liberal blogs and websites immediately took the headline and ran with it, claiming that Reagan, the conservative icon, had seen the light and come to join the good guys.
There is some merit to the conclusion. Those close to Reagan claim that he didn’t subscribe to the homophobia that was the prevailing conservative attitude at the time, and his family was reportedly close friends with a lesbian couple that, according to Davis, babysat from time to time. Together it paints a rosy picture, and that’s all well and good until you remember his response to the HIV epidemic (lack thereof) that resulted in thousands infected in the LGBT community.
It’s also hard to imagine that as a devout Christian Reagan would have been able to cleanly break away from the narrative that homosexuality is a sin and to be condemned. Put that way, it’s hard to compare him to the gay-friendly Republicans of today like Ken Mehlman, Paul Singer and Ted Olson who actively campaign to bring about positive change.
Most importantly, there is no way to tell what Ronald Reagan would have said on any modern issue because he’s dead. I reject the idea that equality is relative to culture and time period, and more than that I reject the idea of someone posthumously propped up to support a cause we can’t guarantee they would have endorsed. His son and Patti Davis’ brother Michael Reagan may have said it best. “Back in the 1980s when he was president, no, he wouldn’t have [supported gay marriage] … It’s easy to say he would do or not do something when he’s not here to answer.”