© 1996 Casco Bay Weekly | By Al Diamon | April 18, 1996

Politics and Other Mistakes

The right profile

Corey Corbin of Gardiner wants to be the first openly gay Republican ever elected to the Maine House of Representatives. To accomplish that goal, Corbin will have to overcome not only the GOP's ingrained homophobia, but his own past support for candidates who took strong anti-gay stands. And just to make it a little tougher, Corbin may have to sacrifice his career in the U.S. Army Reserve.

A former head of the Maine College Republicans, Corbin has also served on the party's state committee. He's run unsuccessfully for Kennebec County commissioner in 1990 and for GOP state chairman in 1992. He says he's been open about his sexual orientation for five years, although several Republican activists in central Maine said they were unaware Corbin was gay. "I don't advertise it," Corbin insisted, "but I don't hide it."

Corbin must have been more circumspect during his high school days, when he served as a volunteer campaign worker for then-state Rep. Norman Weymouth of West Gardiner. Weymouth is best remembered for his 1990 state Senate campaign against Democrat Dale McCormick, a lesbian. Although Weymouth insisted McCormick's sexual orientation was not a major issue, the candidate's brother wrote a letter to the Kennebec Journal claiming McCormick was "an insult to the high ideals of womanhood and a slap in the face to every woman who has suffered through the pain and agony of childbirth."

Corbin also appears to have kept quiet about his homosexuality while holding jobs on Jim Longley's congressional campaign in 1994 and Morry Taylor's presidential bid in 1995. Both Longley and Taylor opposed granting civil rights to gay men and lesbians, and both counted among their supporters several prominent anti-gay activists.

Corbin doesn't see his support for right wing candidates who oppose gay rights as hypocritical. He calls himself the "quintessential Goldwater conservative," and insisted, "I'm trying to gain acceptance by working within the system. I'm hoping to dispel some myths. You can't stereotype all gay men and women as liberal Democrats, and I'm proof of that." But he conceded, "There are always going to be Carolyn Cosbys who'll hate you no matter what you say."

On March 30, Corbin rushed out a news release headlined, "Openly gay candidate seeks GOP nod." He said he decided to emphasize his sexual orientation, even though he didn't think it should be an issue, because his opponent in the Republican primary, Stephen Bailey of Gardiner, told him it was a matter that would have to be debated.

Reasoned debate on gay rights appears to be about as likely during a GOP primary as draft beer at a Christian Civic League convention. Republican gubernatorial candidate Susan Collins, a tepid supporter of civil rights legislation, got blindsided by the religious right in 1994, and her campaign never recovered. The only other openly gay GOP legislative candidate was the victim of a smear campaign. Robin Lambert of Portland was recruited by Republican legislative leaders in 1990 to run for the state Senate. When conservatives discovered Lambert was a gay activist, they not only came up with a candidate to run against him in the primary, but distributed anonymous leaflets urging voters to oppose Lambert because he was "a so-called gay.'" Lambert's opponent, Karen Evans, issued a flyer proclaiming herself "pro-family," followed by the statement, "My GOP opponent is a homosexual activist." Evans won the primary, then complained to the Boston Globe, "I'm being portrayed as a gay-basher." She lost the general election in a landslide.

Nevertheless, Corbin is convinced he won't suffer politically for his sexual orientation. "My state Senate district has elected Dale McCormick, who's openly gay," he said. "Right next door in Hallowell, they elected Susan Farnsworth, who's openly gay, to the House. I expect the campaign will focus on issues."

One big difference between the current Corbin campaign and the McCormick and Farnsworth races is that the latter two are Democrats, and support for gay rights is far stronger in the donkey party, and in the electorate in general, than it is among members of the GOP.

Another concern raised by Corbin's announcement that he's "openly gay," is the matter of his service as an officer in the army reserve. Under the federal "don't ask, don't tell" law, the armed forces have attempted to kick out anyone who admits to being homosexual. Recent court decisions have left it unclear if those dismissals are constitutional. Corbin is unconcerned. "What's the problem?" he asked. "I don't believe this [news release] will find its way to army reserve command in Washington, but if it does, and I get kicked out, the next step will be to run for Congress and change the law."

While Corbin is firmly in favor of allowing gays in the military, his stand on a state gay rights law is more complicated. He says he favors adding sexual orientation to the list of protected classes under the Maine Human Rights Act, but opposes allowing homosexuals who feel they've been discriminated against to seek redress in the courts on their own. "It's too litigious," he said. "It would be too tempting to start suing."

It'll be interesting to see if he still feels the same way after whatever is coming his way in the near future hits home.

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