A Tale of Two Kinds of Republican

There seems to be little difference between federal Judge Bernard Friedman and Michigan Republican National Committee member Dave Agema (pictured). Both are native Michiganders, roughly the same age, Vietnam vets and life-long conservative Republicans.

But both men are on the opposite side on a very big issue: Friedman is a Reagan Republican who believes gays and lesbians must be respected in our society, while Agema is a Tea Party firebrand who supports legislation that purges “the homosexual menace.”

Agema became a national figure after a Facebook rant in late March in which he posted a “fact sheet” claiming that homosexuals commit 50 percent of murders in large cities; that half of all lesbians are dead by age 45; that 60 percent of gay men prefer anonymous sex in bathrooms; and that “violence against women” is a fiction because 50 percent of “domestic abuse calls” involve “queer bashing” among gay men, instead of actual married couples.

In Michigan, a Tea Party Republican who rose to prominence by assailing the “homosexual menace” is on a collision course with a federal judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan, who appears set this fall to rule in favor of gay rights.

Sure there was outrage, especially when it was discovered that most of Agema’s “facts” were made up by one Edward Fields, a Holocaust denier who leads an American neo-Nazi political party and who maintained a lifelong friendship with Medgar Evers’ murderer.

A handful of Republicans protested, including Rupublican National Committee chair Reince Pribus. Agema responded by doubling down, declaring he would continue to publish “the truth” because, well, if you saw a friend dying of alcoholism, would you stand by and watch it happen?

Suddenly, most Republicans, like Michigan’s governor had no comment—period. But Agema got the last laugh. At an RNC meeting in which he forced Pribus to sign off on a resolution declaring that the Republican Party will never support gay marriage.

Par for the course: while he was a member of Michigan’s state legislature, Agema sponsored legislation to cut state support for orphans (state money interferes with charity, he claimed) and has fired up Tea Party rallies by excoriating gays and calling for investigations of “Muslim terrorists” in Dearborn and especially the current occupant of the White House.

Term limited in Lansing, Agema went to the 2012 GOP state convention and used populist anger to allow him to replace “establishment” leader Saul Anuzi, an advisor to Mitt Romney and Karl Rove, on the RNC. Agema claimed that he spoke for the GOP’s mainstream in Michigan.

In contrast, Judge Bernard Friedman is from eastern Michigan, where he was an honors student at Michigan State University and did JAG service during Vietnam. He became a reliable conservative jurist and was appointed by President Reagan in 1988. And where Agema is a bomb thrower, Friedman is so polite the Michigan Bar Association named a civility award after him.

But Friedman is also the staunchest of conservatives. His ruling against the University of Michigan in the school’s affirmative action suit lead to a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2011, he ruled against the EPA’s regulating coal power plants.

Yet Friedman took the case of a lesbian couple denied joint custody for their adopted children and urged them to challenge a gay-marriage ban passed by voters in 2004.

This month, Friedman went even further, promising a trial that many expect will overturn the 2004 vote. No, Friedman hasn’t gone commie; rather he’s trying to correct a problem everyone knew about during the rush to sponsor anti-gay marriage amendments in 2004.

In a few states, like Missouri, Democrats and many Republicans limited these initiatives to say simply that “marriage is between a man and a woman.” But in most states, right-wing legal Svengalis drafted something euphemistically named “the Recognition Power of Marriage” clause. That clause gives states unlimited power to regulate any “marriage related activity,” like child rearing, adoption, death benefits, divorce and so on.

No one should think that Friedman is going to legalize gay marriage in Michigan. The judge has made it clear he is only interested in the impact that the 2004 constitutional amendment has in punishing gays and lesbians but he won’t touch an earlier Michigan law that defines marriage but leaves adoption and other rights alone.

Still, at the end of the day, Friedman is still a Reaganite who hates the EPA and affirmative action, but this fall it seems he’ll likely rule gay couples in Michigan have actual rights.

Unfortunately, Agema is the new GOP establishment and that establishment doesn’t like what it sees. Agema is holding his fire for now, but he’s already shown he can mow down Republicans who disagree with him and with a big election year coming up in Michigan … well, if Friedman opposes him, Agema and his ilk will explode and there will be blood.