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Gay Republicans Plan Their Future

by Jo Freeman

Several dozen gay white men gathered at a Washington DC hotel on April 17 -18 to discuss how to get the GOP to stop trying to restrict personal freedom. The Log Cabin Republicans have been active within the Republican Party for almost three decades and cannot say if progress is being made. They describe their efforts as two steps forward and one step back, but even that is debatable.

Log Cabin emerged out of a 1978 battle in California, when a Republican Assemblyman sponsored an initiative to ban homosexuals from working in the public schools. Republican gays organized their own Republican club to participate in the campaign, and credited the defeat of the initiative to Ronald Reagans outspoken opposition.

When similar clubs emerged in other states, they joined together and opened a national office in 1992. In 2009 they claim 20,000 members scattered throughout 30 states.

In the intervening years the Christian right became a major player in the Republican party, partially as a result of former Democrats, mostly in the South, becoming Republicans in order to pursue their social agenda. Simultaneously, most liberal Republicans, especially in the northeast and on the west coast, left the Republican Party.

One sign of this power shift was an invitation to Pat Buchanan to address the 1992 Republican Convention, even though he had campaigned against the renomination of President George H. W. Bush. In that speech he attacked, among other things, "homosexual rights" as part of "a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America." This culture war speech horrified gay Republicans; the two groups have been duking it out within the Republican Party ever since.

Its a David and Goliath battle, only the gay David doesnt have much of a slingshot. The Christian Right brings a large block of voters to the Republican Party while gay Republicans are merely an irritant. Roughly a third of delegates to the Republican convention describe themselves as evangelical Christians, as do about 40 percent of the voters who identify themselves as Republicans.

Log Cabin Republicans (LCRs) have spent years working within the party to educate Republican leaders about their issues. While some of those leaders talk about the importance of personal liberty, many are fickle. They change course whenever the Christian right raises an eyebrow of disapproval, or they run for a higher office.

In 1994 Mitt Romney sought the endorsement of the Log Cabin Club of Massachusetts when he was running for the US Senate. When he ran for President in 2008 his campaign said that he took "every conceivable step within the law to defend traditional marriage." In 1996 Bob Doles presidential campaign returned a $500 donation made by Log Cabin. After he lost the election, Dole said he regretted this.

In 2000, Log Cabin endorsed George W. Bushs bid for President, citing his philosophy of "compassionate conservatism." They were happy that he was willing to talk to them and liked some of his early decisions. However, Bushs nominations to the federal courts were discouraging and his support of a Constitutional amendment limiting marriage to a union between a man and a women was dismaying. Log Cabin did not endorse him in 2004. (Romney also supported this amendment; LCR exposed him as a hypocrite).

LCRs are very dedicated, stalwart Republicans, who refuse to be run out of their party despite a hostile atmosphere. They have occasionally found allies among some of the other outsiders in the party, but not without difficulties. In 2004 they joined with Republicans for Choice to try to get undesirable language out of the platform. This created internal tensions because a lot of LCR members were not pro-choice.

The Log Cabins have their champions, mostly people who no longer hold public office or do not intend to. Former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman spoke at the conference. The keynote speaker was Steve Schmidt, a McCain campaign advisor. He wants the GOP to support gay marriage but admitted that such a possibility was remote. "I dont honestly expect our party will reverse in the very near term its opposition to same sex marriage."

Meghan McCain (Johns daughter) is another big supporter. Before her appearance as the guest of honor at the 2009 Log Cabin dinner, she blogged that "Of all the causes I believe in and speak publicly about, this is one of the ones closest to my heart" ... because ... "championing a position that wants to treat people unequally isn't just un-Republican. At its fundamental core, it's un-American."

Former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis also made an appearance. But Michael Steele, current Chairman of the Republican National Committee, declined an invitation. He once worked with Whitman to advocate that the Republican Party be a "Big Tent." Now that hes chief ringmaster, hes more circumspect.

Although the picture for gay Republicans is not very rosy right now, time is on their side. Polls say that the single biggest predictor of attitude on gay issues is not religion or politics but age. Meghan McCain, born in 1984, is outspoken in support; her dad, born in 1936, is mum.

©2009 Jo Freeman for SeniorWomen.com

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