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December 29, 2006
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Volume 34
Issue 52
 
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Ford leaves pro-Gay legacy in waning years
Ford leaves pro-Gay legacy in waning years
"President Ford recognized that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness," said Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon.

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

Former President Gerald R. Ford passed away from heart failure at his home in California on Tuesday, December 26, at the age of 93. The longest living former president, surpassing Ronald Reagan by just over a month, Ford had been thrust into the presidency in 1974 after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald R. Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, has passed away at 93 years of age. His was a life filled with love of God, his family, and his country," said Mrs. Betty Ford in a written statement on Tuesday evening.

The Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's largest organization of Republicans who support equality for gays and lesbians, also issued a statement about the death of the nation's 38th president. Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon called Ford a "great man" who led the country "during one of its most difficult hours" and helped to "heal a wounded nation."

"President Ford recognized that all Americans deserve to be treated with dignity and fairness," said Sammon. "Throughout his presidency, President Ford served with integrity as a leader for all Americans."

A long-time leader in the Republican Party, Ford has been credited for his support of the lesbian and gay community in the waning years of his life. During an appearance on CNN's Larry King Live in 1999, Ford warned against the party aligning itself with the right-wing.

"The Republican Party ought to be the party of the middle, not the party of the extreme right wing," he said.

In October 2001, Ford told a Detroit News columnist that he supported full federal benefits for gay couples and a federal law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Ford's disclosure made him the highest-level politician of either party to endorse extending Social Security, tax breaks and other benefits to gay couples.

"I have always believed in an inclusive policy in welcoming gays and others into the [Republican] party," he said.

On benefits for same-sex couples, he added: "I don't see why they shouldn't. I think that's a proper goal... I think they ought to be treated equally. Period."

On banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, he concluded: "That is a step in the right direction. I have a longstanding record in favor of legislation to do away with discrimination."

In the interview, Ford also called "unfair" and "untrue" the charge that he snubbed a gay man who thwarted a 1975 assassination attempt against him. On September 22, 1975, bystander Oliver Sipple, a former Marine and Vietnam veteran, instinctively grabbed the attempted assassin's arm when he saw the gun, causing the bullet to miss its intended target. Although Sipple did receive a written letter of thanks from Ford, some believed that the White House hesitated to thank Sipple publicly due to his sexual orientation.

"As far as I was concerned, I had done the right thing and the matter was ended. I didn't learn until sometime later - I can't remember when - he was gay. I don't know where anyone got the crazy idea I was prejudiced and wanted to exclude gays," Ford told the Detroit News.

Ford became the first past or current president to join an organization advocating for gay and lesbian equality when he joined the Republican Unity Coalition (RUC) in 2001. He served as a member of the advisory board for the group, which pushes for inclusion of gay and lesbian issues in the Republican Party.

"We are so proud to have President Ford join the RUC in our effort to expand the Republican Party by reaching out to gay and lesbian Americans, our friends, families and colleagues who believe in the great principles of the GOP," said RUC Co-Founder and Co-Chair Charles Francis in 2001. "President Ford has spoken eloquently about the need for an inclusive policy that welcomes gays into the Republican family, and we are truly honored to have him join this important effort."

In 2003, Ford also expressed supported for the repeal of sodomy laws in a letter he sent to Francis. The letter was provided to the Seattle Gay News this week.

"I fully concur with [former Wyoming Senator] Al [Simpson] and you on 'gay equality before the law.' I sincerely hope that you prevail in the case of Lawrence v. Texas," wrote Ford in the letter dated March 6, 2003.

On Wednesday, Francis told the SGN that Ford "was a great man who supported our efforts."

Ford is survived by his wife of 50 years, Betty, and their four adult children, Susan, Michael, Jack, and Steven.

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