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Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a reputation for hard-right positions on social issues, especially gay rights — and a public record to match. But with rumors emerging from Texas political circles (on both sides of the aisle) that Perry himself is gay, the Republican front-runner’s aggressive pitch to the evangelical community may be seen as an attempt to discredit those rumors — or distract attention from their possible substance.

While speaking to evangelicals last weekend, the long-married Perry was asked whether anything embarrassing about his personal life could emerge over the course of a campaign. Both that loaded question and his reply — “I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president” — sounded to some like code for a more direct exchange about which team Perry is on, so to speak.

Perry’s anti-gay policies and rhetoric are quite consistent — back in 2003, he voiced vehement disagreement with the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that overturned the state’s archaic sodomy laws. Like many conservative politicians who bray their hostility, however, Perry is suspected in the Texas gay community of overcompensating for his own insecurities.

John Aravosis, a leading gay blogger, stated those suspicions bluntly on his website, Americablog, by recalling the case of former Bush political aide and Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who spent years denying and evading questions about his sexual orientation.

What [Perry] means is, “I’m not gay.” But he didn’t want to say that, and the press reporting on the story, from the Texas Tribune to Politico, didn’t want to tell you that that was what Perry was talking about.

Gotta say, the coyness involved, all around, reminds me of the way former GOP party chair Ken Mehlman, and the media, used to coyly deal with rumors about him being gay. And we all know how that turned out (Ken is now openly gay).

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