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Is America—And the Rest of the World—Ready For a Gay President?

From the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times to CNN's The Situation Room, President Jimmy Carter's recent claim on Big Think that America is in fact ready to elect a gay Commander-in-Chief sometime "in the near future" created quite the media stir. However, as political commentator Andrew Sullivan points out, America may very well have already had a gay president — or two. Historians have long speculated that Abraham Lincoln and his bedfellow of four years, Joshua Speed, were more than just friends. And Aaron V. Burr openly referred to James Buchanan—the only President to remain a life-long bachelor—and his roommate of fifteen years, Alabama Senator William Rufus King, as "Buchanan and his wife."

So is America truly willing to look beyond sexuality at the voting booth? If political consultant and presidential hopeful Fred Karger has his way, we may find out in the 2012 election. As part of our latest series, A Gay White House?, Fred Karger sat down with Big Think to talk candidly about his chances of becoming the 45th President of the United States. Karger, who plans to run as an "Independent Republican," says there's nothing contradictory about being gay and Republican, despite the unfortunate reality that many leaders of the Republican Party have led efforts against gay marriage. "I am trying to bring the Republican Party back to its roots of Lincoln and Roosevelt," says Karger. "The government should stay out of our lives, and that's a Republican philosophy."

Though Karger has thus far only campaigned in New Hampshire and Iowa, he anticipates that once his campaign picks up steam, he will be well received by the general public. "There is a Vanity Fair/CBS poll that showed over 50% of the public supports the concept of an openly gay president," says Karger. "We’ve certainly, you know, emerged as a political force in this country. You’re seeing a lot of attention to the issues; we’ve just passed the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal. And so I think the timing is absolutely perfect."

If Karger officially announces his bid for the presidency this Spring, making the him the first openly gay man to ever run for the position, he isn't so sure how right-leaning talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck will react. "There might be some opposition," says Karger. This past May, the President of the Iowa Christian Alliance Steve Scheffler sent Karger a terse email, warning him that "the radical homosexual community" and he were "not welcome in the state of Iowa." Scheffler promised "to work overtime" to "abort" Karger's candidacy. Another question is whether the rest of the world is ready for a gay U.S. president: "There are laws in the books in many countries, the death penalty in about 19 countries for being gay," Karger admits.  

Whether they are Republicans or Democrats, men or women, Karger says there are plenty of closeted gay people in politics all over the United States. The main reason he is considering running for President is to teach young people that it's okay to be gay: "Religion is the culprit here in teaching people that this is wrong. It’s not. It’s the way we’re born, it’s a huge part of our being, and to be able to live openly and honestly is great," he says. In his opinion, Republicans could not only benefit from staying out of the private lives of Americans, but also by replicating Obama's ability to appeal to youth voters. "I want to be that person who could light a fire under this younger demographic," he says.

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