The Log Cabin Republicans are tired of hearing the “o” word—oxymoron, that is.
With a million gay and lesbian votes counted for Bush in 2000, there must be a lot of oxymorons running around, said Chris Barron, political director for the gay Republican organization.
Virtually everything else about the organization is up for discussion, however, as Log Cabin and its 12,000 members grapple with whether they will re-endorse Pres. George W. Bush for election, what their priorities will be whether or not he wins, and how to steer the Republican Party back to more socially moderate waters.
Most members of Log Cabin wouldn’t have anything to do with anti-war marches up Seventh Avenue or with anarchist die-ins, but they weren’t in New York this week to sing Bush’s praises either. The group is in a complicated position made more so by its refusal to keep silent as the Republican Party, according to executive director Patrick Guerriero, is “hijacked by the radical right’s divisive social agenda.”
Before the convention platform was finalized, Log Cabin joined other socially moderate Republican organizations like the abortion rights group Republicans for Choice and the Republican Youth Majority to draft a mildly phrased amendment. This “Party Unity Plank” acknowledged inter-party differences of opinion on abortion and gay issues and welcomed “all people on all sides” to co-exist in the tent.
The GOP wasn’t interested. They rejected the plank and released an even more divisive platform than in past years that not only renewed the call for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but denigrated civil unions as well. For Log Cabin, this was the final straw. Its members spoke out against the platform and on Monday released an advertisement denouncing the intolerant, rightward shift of the Republican Party that extremists have championed. The ad, which has sparked attention in the mainstream media due to CNN’s refusal to air it saying it is “too controversial,” features images of Arizona Sen. John McCain, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and the late Pres. Ronald Reagan.
“The party can’t have it both ways,” Barron said at the Big Tent Event, a reception at Bryant Park sponsored by the group a day before the convention started. “He can’t put out a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then put Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on at prime time.”
Yet the opposition from the right has invigorated some members, as they’ve discovered allies in both parties and gained conviction from the Senate’s bi-partisan defeat of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) in July. The president’s endorsement of the FMA was disappointing but “a blessing in disguise,” said Massachusetts chapter president Ken Sanchez. It’s pushed gay Republicans to articulate conservative arguments for gay marriage, like the citizen’s right to a private life that the government stays out of, constitutional stability and the commitment of a social bond like marriage, he explained. And it’s helped establish a mutual respect with left-leaning gays and lesbians, at least on this subject.
“Tax, foreign policy, health care—we’ll fight later on those issues,” according to Sanchez.
Following a New York Times Talk panel session on the gay vote last Friday in which Guerriero participated, Log Cabin board member Patrick Murphy said the group is “energized after seeing the action taken We are playing a vital role.”
Frank Ricchiazzi, a convention at-large alternate delegate from California and a Log Cabin founder, is confident that intolerance will turn off intelligent voters regardless of sexual orientation. He attributed, as do many Log Cabin members, the White House’s support for the FMA to Karl Rove, and a calculation that this decision would shore up the evangelical Christian base that didn’t turn out for the 2000 election. Republican strategists chose to “play a gay card” but are now doomed to lose crucial gay and lesbian votes.
“We have multiple chapters in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio. These are battleground states,” he said.
Not only that, many of the targeted Christians oppose anti-gay rhetoric, so the decision may fail to win their votes as well, he argued.
“My partner is from an evangelical Baptist home, and they abhor the thought” of excluding gays from institutions like marriage, Ricchiazzi said. “It was a stupid political strategy.”
At Sunday’s Big Tent Event, Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed attendees to New York, taking issue only with Guerriero’s baseball allegiance—the Red Sox—and getting laughs when he related his “coming out” as a Republican. Gov. George Pataki cracked a faint smile when Guerriero introduced him and quipped, “To some of us in this room, ‘President Pataki’ sounds damn nice.”
Queer Fist, an ad hoc protest group, picketed the event with banners reading “Gay Republicans—Daddy Still Hates You” and “Gay Republican=The Cutting Edge of Self-Loathing.” Protesters criticized Log Cabin members who aspire to mainstream institutions like marriage.
“We’re critical of the mainstream gay rights agenda and its integration into conservative institutions like marriage and the military,” said Dominic Wetzell, a Queer Fist activist from New York. He and Jeff Myers had “Gay Clones for Marriage” satirically written on their bare backs, part of a street theater performance where they donned black veils and married conservative institutions.
“Log Cabin should know better,” Myers said. Gay marriage will potentially create “good gays and bad gays,” according to Wetzell, driving a moral wedge between those who choose to marry and those who don’t. They’d like to see the queer community maintain “a spirit of resistance, not just conforming.”
Ricchiazzi said he is “pissed off” with the gay left’s misunderstanding of Log Cabin. Gay identity doesn’t require registering as a Democrat, he said, arguing that his group’s strength lies in their courage in challenging the Republican Party from within, in a way that gay Democrats don’t act toward their own party.
“We don’t stay quiet during the convention,” Ricchiazzi said. “Where were Democrats?”
Sanchez agreed. “We hold them to it—the gay left looks the other way.”
When Guerriero invoked the names of Pataki, Giuliani and McCain at the Times Talk event, audience members hissed him. That reaction holds gays back, he argued, adding that in New York, domestic partnership and gay-inclusive anti-discrimination laws were enacted only when Democrats and Republicans successfully worked together.
LCR board members such as Murphy say that they could never vote for John Kerry, but it’s clear that the Log Cabin Republicans have some soul searching to do in the next few months. They have pointedly held off an endorsement, or lack of endorsement, for Bush. As a Republican organization, it is not entertaining the thought of a Kerry endorsement.
A Kerry win, however, would give Log Cabin the chance to demand that the Republican Party redirect its focus, turning to its Patakis and McCains as party leaders instead of prime-time convention window-dressing. Regardless of the 2004 election outcome, the race for 2008 will begin quickly.
“Our willingness to be at the table has to be matched with personal integrity,” Guerriero said. “We put our integrity and community ahead of that desire to be at the table.”