The Log Cabin Republicans group turns 20 this year, but the party’s platform committee did not give them much to celebrate. The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has been bragging for more than a week about how much influence his group had on the platform, which reflects the religious right’s anti-gay opposition to marriage equality. Perkins and others shot down an attempt to add support for civil unions to the platform.
But at a Monday afternoon reception co-hosted by Log Cabin and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, the mood is surprisingly upbeat. Talking to people at the reception made me wonder at the fine, fuzzy line dividing optimism from delusion.“This is our party…” LCR’s Clarke Cooper insists. “We are here to make it stronger and more inclusive.”
“[I]t’s a whole new world out there” and in the Republican Party, says former member of Congress Jim Kolbe, who was “outed” while in office. He contends that the kind of resistance to LGBT equality that is reflected in this year’s platform is a generational issue — “the last gasp of the conservatives,” he calls it — and boldly predicts that this is the last year in which the platform will contain such language. When I suggest that if Ralph Reed’s turnout operation among conservative evangelicals does as much for the Republicans in November as Reed hopes, the party is not likely to turn its backs on the anti-gay religious right base, Kolbe shrugs and says both parties appeal to their bases for turnout. “We will have the victory,” he says.
Sarah Longwell, who serves on the Leadership Committee for Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, affirms that it was disappointing that Perkins, who is “brutally anti-gay,” was basically allowed to write the part of the platform pertaining to marriage and LGBT rights. Her group and LCR are taking out a full page ad in tomorrow’s Tampa Tribune that quotes Tony Perkins on the importance of marriage, and offering this response:
“We agree. That’s why Log Cabin Republicans and Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry believe that government should stop denying marriage licenses to committed gay and lesbian families. As conservatives, we believe that the freedom to marry is directly in line with the core ideals and principles of the Republican Party.”
Those hoping for the GOP to embrace equality do have a point about generational change. Polling shows that equality is making gains among individual Republicans, especially those under the age of 44, who are now about evenly split on the question of marriage equality. Longwell points to the key role played by Republicans who joined Democrats in advancing marriage equality in New York, New Hampshire, and other states. Longwell says she believes that the crass anti-gay wedge politics employed by the GOP in 2004 played a role in encouraging Republicans like Dick Cheney, Ken Mehlman, and Laura Bush to be more outspoken in their support for marriage equality. If 2004 was a turning point, she says, 2012 could be a “tipping point,” at which shifting public opinion makes overt anti-gay politicking unfeasible. “You can’t demagogue gay people forever.” Perkins, however, may have a different opinion on that, and no small measure of power in the G.O.P.
The Log Cabin folks are particularly excited about Richard Tisei, a 50-year old former state senator from Massachusetts who is running for Congress this year with backing from the national party. Tisei, who is challenging Rep. John Tierney, is openly gay, pro-choice and pro-marriage equality, but none of these issues appear on his campaign’s issues page, which pushes standard right-wing talking points on “Obamacare,” Medicare, the economy, education, and the Middle East. Of course, that doesn’t phase the Log Cabin Republicans, who are excited about a member of Congress who would vote to repeal both the Defense of Marriage Act and the Affordable Care Act.