The enduring image of the supportive spouse crops up every campaign season, standing dutifully alongside the candidate to underscore their stability and dedication to family values.
This season, for the first time, the spouse standing next to the male candidate was also a man.
“After falling in love with Pete, Pete got me to believe in myself again,” a tearful Chasten Buttigieg told a crowd after his husband announced he was quitting the race on the eve of the Super Tuesday primaries.
Although same-sex marriage was a lightning rod issue a decade ago, American attitudes have shifted dramatically in recent years. Same-sex marriages were legalized in all 50 states in 2015, and more than half of all same-sex cohabitating couples were married by the following year.
Buttigieg, 38, managed to raise $80 million in a crowded field and made history as the first openly gay candidate to win delegates for the presidency from a major political party. Pundits debated his platform of gun control, prison reform and access to health care without dwelling on his sexuality. Chris Wallace interviewed him on Fox News without once mentioning it.
Those commenters who did criticize Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage faced criticism themselves. Rush Limbaugh said the country was not yet ready to elect a “gay guy kissing his husband,” only to be criticized himself for homophobia.
Activists say Buttigieg’s campaign has proven that gay candidates can stand on their own merits.
“His timing in leaving now is perfect,” celebrated author Andrew Tobias told the Guardian newspaper. “People said Kennedy was too young and a Catholic; they said Obama was too young and half-black and his middle name was Hussein. For us, this campaign was the greatest teaching moment LGBTQ people could ever have.”