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10/21/2011

Elisabeth Hasselbeck: Giving (surprising) voice to the changing Republican view

by Jeremy Hooper

Screen Shot 2011-10-21 At 8.42.55 AmIt was just this week. Tuesday, in fact. While the ladies were cross-talking their way through a discussion on the exceedingly anti-gay Herman Cain, Elisabeth Hasselbeck took a moment to reinforce the ways that she differs from her fellow Republican. In her clarification, Hasselbeck included this line:

"I support gay marriage to the nines" (3:46 in this clip)

Most notable about the quip: Just how inconsequential it was. Elisabeth said it as if it was a no-brainer. A throwaway line. She said it in the same light, easy, natural way that she might use to introduce the next fashion makeover segment. As in: "I support marriage equality and Biore Strips -- stay tuned after the break for a performance from the latest 'Dancing with the Stars' castoff"

But Elisabeth did say it, clearly and factually, without apology or hesitation. And that's pretty damn monumental if you think about the journey.


In the early Bush years, Elisabeth played the conservative role well, as far as that goes. I can't find any transcripts or video from that less-YouTubed time, but I do remember it quite well. The gay marriage debates were typically Joy (and sometimes Star) vs. Elisabeth, who largely spoke the words of that Bush era. Whether it was heartfelt, partisan, or simply an attempt at good TV, Hasselbeck was certainly providing cover for those Republican fans who wanted an ally in stopping short of full equality.

Then during her time getting to know Rosie O'Donnell and her family, Elisabeth still refused to get behind marriage equality. She even used lines like "activist judges," "redefining marriage," and "no one's denied the right to marry -- you could marry someone of the opposite sex" (check out this '07 interview for those lines and more). There were some bright spots, like when she noted that's it a million things other than same-sex marriage that is breaking down marriage. But Elisabeth still wasn't a supporter, at a time when she could have been using her considerable platform to make a difference.

Then in 2008, it all came to a head. Post-Rosie and post-Prop-8, Elisabeth (joined by cohost Sherri Shepherd) hauled out every conservative talking point she could think of, only exacerbating the wound that so many of us were feeling at the time. Again, it felt more like a role she was playing, seemingly for the sake of her role as the show's conservative voice. But it was not helpful. On the contrary, in fact.

But then it happened. Around 2010, she shifted, something Elisabeth largely credited to her friendship with singer Melissa Etheridge (who had called her out on the show in those post-Prop-8 days). All of a sudden Hasselbeck was on our side, drawing ire from groups like Focus on the Family and the National Organization For Marriage. Elisabeth even condemned NOM for protesting on the day that marriages began in New York state. Those were all big pronouncements, for which Elisabeth deserves applause.

Consider, too: This all happened in a span of three or four years. And I really don't think this is an example of someone simply waiting until the waters were friendlier before taking a risk. I believe Hasselbeck is a unique example of someone who has had no choice but to have this journey, via her exposure to LGBT people as a citizen of New York City, her unmatched access to folks from all walks of life per her stint in the ABC hot seat, and her role as a defender of the Republican party's stances and priorities. Hasselbeck has been forced to consider where she was and where she wants to go, for the sake of both herself and her family. And in just a handful of years, she has seen the past errors, working now to remedy them for the sake of a more promising future. That's the grand takeaway here.

However, I think now, here in a more settled 2011, is where the biggest, most useful takeaway lies. Elisabeth has moved into the post-pronouncement stage of support. Perhaps even the post-controversy stage of support. She now just makes her support known, easily and benignly, sure to distance herself from a GOP presidential slate that is still in full attack mode. She simply says, "I support gay marriage to the nines," and moves on to the next point. And that, the "no big whoop" stage, is where we want to be. Where we need to be. Where we ultimately will be.

Brava, E.H.

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