Ronald Reagan's Daughter Says He Wouldn't Oppose Gay Marriage

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Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 4 2013 12:49 PM

Ronald Reagan Enters the Gay-Marriage Debate From Beyond the Grave

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Ronald Reagan was given plenty of face time at last summer's Republican National Convention

Photo by Stan Honda/AFP/GettyImages

Ronald Reagan died nearly a decade ago. Still, his name came up so often during last year's election, you'd be forgiven if you thought he was on the ballot. (All the more so because a hologram version of the late president came remarkably close to making an appearance at the GOP convention.) Now, Reagan's weighing in on the issue of the moment from beyond the grave—or at least by way of his youngest daughter.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

During an appearance on the LGBT online show Gwissues that went live yesterday, Patti Davis said that if her father were alive today he wouldn't "stand in the way" of gay marriage. "I think he would be puzzled, on the one hand, on why anyone would have a problem with people wanting to be married and wanting to be committed to one another," she told host Howard Bragman. "What difference does it make to anybody else’s life? I also think because he wanted government out of peoples’ lives, he would not understand the intrusion of government banning such a thing. This is not what he would have thought government should be doing."

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You can watch the full interview below. But first, a bit of context is probably in order. As president, Reagan reacted painfully slowly to the AIDS epidemic, drawing heavy criticism from the gay community and others. As governor of California, however, he opposed the Briggs Initiative, a state ballot initiative that would have banned homosexuals from working in public schools. As for Davis, Politico reminds us that she "has long been known as the black sheep of the Reagan family," in part because of her liberal viewpoints and in part because she posed nude for Playboy back in 1994. (The New York Times is a little kinder, calling her "the onetime rebellious daughter of Reagan and his second wife, Nancy.") So while noteworthy, her comments are unlikely to be taken as gospel by everyone in the church of Reagan.

She's also not the only one of the former president's children to weigh in on the issue of same-sex marriage. Michael Reagan, her much more conservative half-brother, wrote an op-ed last week urging church leaders to more vocally lead the fight against allowing gays and lesbians to wed, although he opted against invoking the name of his father while making his argument. In an interview with the Washington Post today, Michael said there's no way of knowing where his father would come down on the issue if he were still alive. "It’s easy to say he would do or not do something when he’s not here to answer," he said, suggesting that when his father was alive he believed marriage should be limited to heterosexual couples.

Here's the video, which includes Davis speaking about her lesbian aunts that babysat her from time to time, as well as her first conversation about homosexuality with her dad. (She also made similar remarks in an interview with the New York Times for an article that was published this morning.)

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This post has been updated with additional information about Reagan's mixed history on gay rights.

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