Being a gay or lesbian Republican isn’t easy. Social conservatives condemn your “homosexual lifestyle,” while your friends (and lovers) on the left see you as part of the antigay problem. At the Republican National Convention, the Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP’s largest gay and lesbian group, is working to resolve this tension by making the party more inclusive, along with fellow moderate groups Republicans for Choice and the Republican Youth Majority. The groups hoped that since the RNC was granting prime-time speaking slots to such socially moderate voices as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani, it might be possible to reflect a wider view on abortion and LGBT rights in the party’s platform.
Wishful thinking. Even as the Bush-backed Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution tanked in the Senate and Vice President Cheney voiced his disapproval of such federal meddling in marriage, the platform committee wasn’t playing gay ball. On August 26 the committee approved a platform that not only calls for a gay-marriage-banning amendment but also condemns civil unions and any legal recognition for same-sex partners.
“The platform is getting, quite frankly, worse and worse–it’s offensive,” said Jeff Bissiri, an LCR member and convention delegate. “As a concept our platform should be about a page long so as many people as possible can look at it and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a Republican.'”
The LCR ruled out a floor fight at the convention (where there are anywhere from forty to sixty openly gay delegates) in favor of running a TV ad featuring Ronald Reagan’s farewell address at the 1992 convention, where he said he hoped he appealed “to your best hopes, not your worst fears.” The ad closes with images of the Rev. Fred Phelps holding a God Hates Fags sign at Matthew Shepard’s funeral and asks party faithful if they would choose inclusion or Phelps’s way. “The choice is clear,” the ad’s tag line reads. (CNN refused to air the spot, deeming it “too controversial.”)
In April the Log Cabin Republicans held their own national convention in Palm Springs, where more than 300 participants debated the organization’s presidential endorsement. Rebecca Maestri, Virginia chapter president and one of the “Austin 12,” a group of gay Republicans who met then-candidate Bush in 2000, said she hadn’t decided how she would vote. “This has been gut-wrenching,” she explained of the President’s decision to support the gay-marriage ban. “When the President came out and announced his support for the constitutional amendment I felt in a very similar fashion as I felt watching the ’92 convention, when Pat Buchanan hijacked my party.” Maestri estimated that a third of her state organization’s membership are supportive of Bush’s re-election bid, a third are opposed and a third are “still gazing at their belly button trying to decide which way to go.”
The Reagan ad isn’t LCR’s first television foray. The group came out swinging against the marriage amendment earlier this year, launching a million-dollar ad campaign using quotes from Cheney in 2000 when he first indicated he thought the Feds should stay out of the marriage business. These ads, which do not mention the President or the election, have run in at least twelve states and have been partially bankrolled by former California Congressman Michael Huffington, who told the crowd in Palm Springs, “If we are going to be taken for granted, we have no voice to speak of.”
Pre-eminent gay conservative Andrew Sullivan argued at the LCR convention that it would be a big mistake to cede the party to the religious right. “I’m getting tired of people saying life would be a lot easier if you would sit there as a Democrat and smugly tell everybody they’re deluded.” Log Cabin Republicans say Democrats shouldn’t be smug anyway, since John Kerry’s position on same-sex marriage isn’t all that inclusive. Kerry (like Cheney) is against limiting marriage at the federal level but supports a state constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would ban same-sex marriage, a move that helped slide the issue through the state legislature and has paved the way for an ugly statewide referendum in 2006. Trolling for socially conservative votes in the Midwest, Kerry supported a voter-approved gay-marriage ban in Missouri, which was passed overwhelmingly August 3 and sets the stage for similar votes in a dozen other states in coming months. “I mean, who are we kidding here?” asked one Log Cabin member, who plans to vote for Bush because of his global AIDS plan.
Like a good conservative, LCR co-founder and California alternate GOP delegate Frank Ricchiazzi takes a broader view of the problem. Ricchiazzi has seen ugly battles before, most notably the 1978 Briggs Initiative in California, which would have banned gays from teaching in public schools but failed miserably after it was denounced by prominent Republicans, including Reagan. Bush’s campaign is now finding that the Administration has not only alienated a million gay and lesbian Bush voters from 2000 (as many as 60,000 in Florida alone), it has set off a debate among secular conservatives from Alan Simpson to David Brooks at a time when every Republican has to be on the same page. It’s a debate that the LCR warns could get ugly. “If we don’t speak out, we’re going to have the continued exclusion of people in the democratic process in the Republican Party,” Ricchiazzi said. “These people don’t want us in their party, because we expose them to what they really want, and what they really want is a theocracy.”