Washington • As Republican politicians wrestle with same-sex marriage, the daughter of a party icon — former President Ronald Reagan — said in an interview this week that she believes her father would have “been puzzled” by the political fuss and would have supported marriage for gay people.
Patti Davis, a Los Angeles writer and the onetime rebellious daughter of Reagan and his second wife, Nancy, said in a telephone interview that she never discussed same-sex marriage with the former president, who died in 2004 just as it was emerging as a political issue.
But Davis, now 60, offered several reasons her father, who would have been 102 this year, would have bucked his party on the issue: his distaste for government intrusion into private lives, his Hollywood acting career and close friendship with a lesbian couple who once cared for Davis and her younger brother Ron while their parents were on a Hawaiian vacation — and slept in the Reagans’ king-size bed.
“I grew up in this era where your parents’ friends were all called aunt and uncle,” Davis said. “And then I had an aunt and an aunt. We saw them on holidays and other times.” She added, “We never talked about it, but I just understood that they were a couple.”
Once when she and her father were watching a Rock Hudson movie, Davis said, she remarked that the actor “looked weird” kissing his female co-star. She said her father explained that Hudson “would rather be kissing a man,” and conveyed, without using the words homosexual or gay, the idea that “some men are born wanting to love another man.” Years later, in 1985, Hudson died of AIDS.
Davis, a former actress who has made news over the years by posing nude in Playboy and, more recently, the magazine More, has just self-published a novel, “Till Human Voices Wake Us,” about sisters-in-law who fall in love and leave their husbands. (She said it was not autobiographical.)
She first shared her views about her father with a friend, Howard Bragman, who has a YouTube show devoted to gay issues and interviewed her about her book.
Davis is not the only Reagan child speaking out on same-sex marriage. Michael E. Reagan, a conservative commentator and son of the former president and his first wife, Jane Wyman, recently wrote an opinion piece accusing churches of “wimping out” by not fighting harder to block same-sex marriage.
But the younger Reagan did not address his father’s views, and Davis said she would not “get into a family feud” with her half-brother.
Reagan had a mixed record on gay rights. As president, he infuriated many gay people with his slow response to the AIDS epidemic, but as governor of California he joined a number of Democrats, including President Jimmy Carter, in opposing a ballot measure that would have barred gays and lesbians from working in public schools.
Davis said her father “did not believe that gayness was a choice,” although “as a straight man and an old-fashioned man, it’s not like he understood it.”
Davis’ comments are certain to inflame conservative admirers of her father.
Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist and gay rights opponent, said in an interview that Reagan — who as governor signed the nation’s first “no-fault” divorce law and later told his son Michael it was his “greatest regret” — would never have stood for same-sex marriage.
“Of course, Reagan did associate with all the Hollywood crowd, and chances are he probably knew a number of gays,” Schlafly said. “I could understand that he might not have wanted to bar them from a job but that would not mean he would want them to get a marriage license.”
Davis said she expects conservative discontent with her, adding, “All I know is the heart of the man who raised me as my father.”