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CPAC lifts ban on gay conservative group

GOProud, CPAC, gay news, Washington Blade

The GOProud booth at CPAC in 2011. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

After years of being banned, a group for gay conservatives will once again participate this year in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — although its involvement will be limited compared to previous years.

As first reported by the National Journal, the American Conservative Union announced on Wednesday that it would allow GOProud to participate in CPAC, which will take place March 6-8 at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

Dan Schneider, the ACU’s executive director, said his organization decided to allow GOProud to return to CPAC following a meeting between the groups last week.

“The directors have a new vision for promoting a broad array of conservative priorities; from sound fiscal policies to strong Second Amendment rights to pro-life policies,” Schneider said. “We welcome GOProud’s attendance at this year’s CPAC conference. I believe their presence could help establish a productive relationship in the future.”

However, GOProud is only set to participate at CPAC as a guest at the event. No booth was allocated to the gay conservative group at the conference.

Ross Hemminger, co-director of GOProud, said his organization didn’t seek a booth at the event and wanted to participate as a guest to rebuild the relationship with the ACU.

“We will have the presence that we wanted there,” Hemminger said. “I’ve been making clear to people, we didn’t ask for a booth, we didn’t ask to co-sponsor, we asked to attend as guests, and the ACU and CPAC have been very willing to work with us to that, and they’ve been wonderful to work with.”

Although GOProud had a booth at CPAC in 2010 and 2011, the organization was barred from participating in 2012 along with the John Birch Society. Although the ACU would later say GOProud was barred for “disrespectful behavior,” GOProud always asserted it was barred from attendance because it identified as a gay group.

It should be noted that GOProud was invited back to CPAC in the first year that the former leaders of the group, Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron, are no longer affiliated with the organization.

But the lifting of the ban on GOProud wasn’t the only news on Wednesday regarding CPAC. New Jersey Governor and possible 2016 Republican presidential contender Chris Christie, who was snubbed at last year’s event, was allowed to have a speaking slot at the event.

One remaining question is whether the Log Cabin Republicans will attend CPAC. Gregory Angelo, Log Cabin’s executive director, said the decision is still up in the air.

“We’re still working out what LCR participation might look like at CPAC,” Angelo said. “Any Log Cabin Republicans presence would need to be meaningful.”

Asked what a meaningful presence would look like, Angelo said, “We’re still ironing that out.”


Gay Republican advances in bid for Congress

Carl DeMaio, gay news, Washington Blade

Republican Carl DeMaio will face incumbent Democrat Rep. Scott Peters in the general election. (Photo public domain)

There are seven openly gay members of the U.S. House – all of whom are Democrats. But Republican Carl DeMaio, who emerged as one of the top two candidates in a primary election for California’s 52nd congressional district Tuesday, hopes to change that.

DeMaio trailed one-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Scott Peters by about six percentage points in the four-way open primary Tuesday night, meaning the two candidates will face off in the general election in November.

“Tonight’s win sends a national message to the Republican Party: San Diegans are fed up and frustrated,” DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council, said Tuesday. “We want the party to return to its traditional roots of standing up for personal freedoms where we allow individuals to decide social issues in the context of their own personal views on faith and family without interference from their government.”

DeMaio featured his husband in a campaign advertisement. He’s found himself the victim of smear campaigns: Shortly before the primary, his campaign office was vandalized, leaving computers destroyed and the floors flooded.

DeMaio has been by-and-large unable to win the backing of the mainstream LGBT establishment. The Human Rights Campaign endorsed Peters, noting his “stellar record on LGBT equality.” The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBT candidates, stayed out of the race.

DeMaio, who was booed at a San Diego Pride parade when running for mayor of the city in 2012, has said in the past he wouldn’t “push the gay special agenda” if elected. He did, however, garner support from GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, two conservative LGBT groups.

Although he has said he “obviously” supports same-sex marriage, he has accepted donations from individuals who contributed to Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that banned same-sex marriage in California. Prop 8 has since been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court — but DeMaio, who has a partner, never took a public stance on the controversial measure.

Here’s how other LGBT candidates fared in California’s Tuesday primaries:

• Lesbian candidate for San Diego county clerk Susan Guinn failed in her attempt to unseat Ernest Dronenburg. During his tenure, he tried to delay same-sex marriage after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling to strike down Prop. 8.

• San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a lesbian Republican, won her re-election effort.

• Long Beach, Calif., elected its first openly gay mayor, Robert Garcia. The 35-year-old is also the city’s first Latino mayor.


GOProud endorses Navy SEAL in Mass. Senate race

Gabriel Gomez, Massachusetts, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez was endorsed by GOProud on Friday. (Photo by Gabriel Gomez for Senate; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A Republican former Navy SEAL seeking a U.S. Senate seat in a Massachusetts special election is set to make an appearance at Boston Pride after receiving an endorsement by a national gay conservative group.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, told the Washington Blade on Friday following news of his organization’s endorsement of Gabriel Gomez that the candidate would appear at his booth for the Boston Pride celebration. Will Ritter, a Gomez spokesperson, confirmed the candidate would be there.

“I certainly encourage all of our folks across the country to contribute to the Gomez campaign,” LaSalvia said. “I also encourage the LGBT community in Massachusetts to come out to meet Gabriel at his booth at the Boston Pride Festival tomorrow afternoon.”

Gomez is running against Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) for U.S. Senate seat in a special election set for June 25 to succeed John Kerry, who left the Senate to become Secretary of State.

According to LaSalvia, GOProud’s board decided by voice vote earlier this week to endorse the candidate. The announcement was made on Friday.

“Gabriel Gomez brings not only a rich and varied record of personal and professional accomplishment to the race, he also represents an opportunity to elect a new generation of Republican to bring real leadership to the Senate,” LaSalvia said in a statement.

Gomez, who after leaving the military became a private equity investor, said he welcomed GOProud’s support in a statement provided by the organization and said he supports same-sex marriage.

“I continue to be energized by the support I’m receiving from voters as I campaign hard throughout the Commonwealth,” Gomez said. “I don’t believe in discrimination of any kind. If two people love each other, they should be able to get married, it’s that simple. This endorsement from GOProud only amplifies the diversity of voices I plan to represent and champion in the Senate.”

In a March primary debate, Gomez articulated support for same-sex marriage while saying he supports repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. But on California’s Proposition 8, Gomez said marriage is a state issue and while he doesn’t agree with the measure, “you need to respect what the states decide on a state-by-state issue.”

GOProud board member and Boston resident Dennis Duquette also had praise for Gomez in the same statement while taking a jab at the Democratic candidate.

“Gabriel Gomez’s commitment to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to reach common-sense, innovative solutions to the challenges we face as a nation stands in stark contrast to Ed Markey’s record of party-line voting for bad policy these last 37 years,” Duquette said.

The second-longest serving member of Congress from New England, Markey has a long record of pro-LGBT votes. He was among 67 U.S. House members in 1996 to vote against DOMA. More recently, he voted for hate crimes protections and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Markey’s campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on whether the congressman would make an appearance at Boston Pride.


Rep. Forbes under fire for opposing gay GOP candidates

Randy Forbes, Virginia, Republican Party, United States House of Representatives, gay news, Washington Blade

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) has expressed concerns over Republican money going to support gay congressional candidates. (Photo public domain)

Gay Republican groups are criticizing Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) over his reported comments that gay congressional candidates should not receive money from the Republican Party to run for office.

The groups were responding to an article published late Thursday in Politico, which cited a half-dozen anonymous sources as saying Forbes has undertaken “a lengthy crusade” to convince the National Republican Congressional Committee to drop support for gay Republican candidates.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said Forbes’ position indicates he wants to relegate Republicans to minority status in the U.S. House.

“You either want Republicans to win, or you don’t — it’s as simple as that,” Angelo said. “Apparently, Congressman Forbes does not. Thankfully, the real GOP leaders in the House know how to pick winners, and their money is on Richard Tisei and Carl DeMaio.”

Among the gay Republican congressional candidates cited by Politico are Massachusetts Republican Richard Tisei, who narrowly lost in his challenge to unseat Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) last year and is considering a rematch, as well as Carl DeMaio, who’s seeking to represent the San Diego area in the House.

Another gay candidate seeking to carry the Republican banner in a bid for a congressional seat not mentioned in the Politico piece is Dan Innis, a University of New Hampshire administrator in a same-sex marriage who’s seeking to unseat Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.).

In a statement provided to the Blade, DeMaio said he focused on winning his congressional race and not the comments from the Virginia politician.

“Under Mr. Forbes, San Diegans are not focused on sexual orientation,” DeMaio said. “To the contrary, I’m winning this district because San Diegans are looking for fresh leadership in Washington to reform wasteful government spending, revitalize the economy and hold government programs accountable.”

Tisei didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment, and Innis couldn’t be reached.

Ross Hemminger, co-director of GOProud, said Forbes’ behavior is “disappointing.”

“This type of rhetoric is symptomatic of someone who does not understand the importance of being a team player,” Hemminger said. “Our party cannot win elections by appealing to the lowest common denominator amongst the minority of American voters. This type of rhetoric embarrasses Republicans everywhere, and it is not helpful.”

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was succinct when asked about the issue during his news conference on Thursday.

In response to a question about whether Republican money should go to gay congressional candidates, Boehner replied, “I do.”

Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), accused Boehner of being disingenuous in his answer and took the opportunity to bash gay Republican candidates as well as the speaker’s failure to bring up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act for a vote.

“LGBT Americans are more interested in passing ENDA and expanding freedom and equality in our country than Speaker Boehner’s insincere efforts to marry himself to extreme gay Republican candidates,” Hammill said.

Forbes, who scored “0″ in the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard, is known for his anti-LGBT record in Congress.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Virginia Republican has supported the anti-gay American Family Association and was set to headline one of its fundraisers before canceling at the last minute.

Forbes is among the 59 sponsors of a proposed U.S. constitutional amendment in the House that would ban same-sex marriage throughout the country. As ThinkProgress notes, Forbes spoke out against ENDA on the House floor in 2007, saying the LGBT anti-bias bill will lead “activist judges to redefine the institution of marriage.”

In the Politico piece, Forbes is quoted as saying he believes Republican leaders can “do whatever they want to do” in terms of giving money to congressional candidates, but is concerned about House members being asked to contribute to the campaigns.

“There would be a different situation if they tried to force other members to give money,” Forbes said.

As Politico notes, the NRCC is partially funded by collecting tens of millions of dollars from House Republicans, who pay dues to the organization.

NRCC Chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) was quoted as saying in Politico that the policy of his organization is to contribute money to Republican candidates — even if they identify as gay.

“Our decisions on the Republican nominees we support will not be based on race, gender or sexual orientation but will be based on the strength of their candidacy and their ability to defeat Democrats,” Walden said.

News is breaking now over Forbes’ objections to gay congressional candidates, according to Politico, amid speculation over who’ll replace Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) as chair of the House Armed Services Committee after his expected retirement next year.

Forbes has been mentioned as a possible successor, but McKeon’s chief of staff has reportedly said his boss expects Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) to be the next chair.

“Throwing solid conservative contenders under the bus in a cynical and hopeless attempt to gain a chairmanship is beyond the pale,” Angelo said. “Congressman Forbes would do more to help his image by supporting efforts to grow the Republican House majority rather than undermine it.”


GOProud members take part in anti-abortion march

Holly Parker, GOProud, abortion, gay news, Washington Blade

GOProud staffer Holly Parker stands outside the Archives Metro station in D.C. on Friday in support of the March for Life. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A group of gay conservatives were among those who took part in the annual March for Life in D.C. on Friday.

GOProud members handed out red and white stickers to passersby at the Archives Metro station on Pennsylvania Avenue that read “Hello, I’m… pro life & pro gay” before attending a rally on the National Mall in opposition of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

They then proceeded to march to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“So many in the media when they talk about social issues, they talk about gay marriage and abortion as if it’s one thing. And the common portrayal is pro-life people are anti-gay for some reason,” GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia told the Washington Blade as he and a handful of others stood outside the Metro station before the rally. “We know that that’s not true; that your position on issues affecting gay people has nothing to do with your position on abortion. Also it gives us a chance to demonstrate for our pro-life people a common ground with other pro-life people who are here who may not be used to seeing gay people talking about this issue.”

LaSalvia, who pointed out GOProud does not have a position on abortion, stressed he is pro-life.

“Everybody has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” LaSalvia said. “I think that means gay people and unborn people too.”

GOProud member Holly Parker noted to the Blade that her younger sister is adopted and she has “multiple friends who have had abortions and have come to regret it.”

“I’m just out here for them and for my fighting for pro-life,” Parker said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins and Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley are among those who spoke during the rally that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the Mall. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) addressed participants via a pre-recorded video message.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored an all-night prayer vigil before the March for Life at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C.

“I’ve got to stand up for what I am and not for what people want me to be,” gay D.C. resident Michael Jones told the Blade as he stood outside the Archives Metro station. “I’ve got to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, like the unborn children.”


McCain: UAFA ‘not of paramount importance’ for immigration deal

John McCain, Republican Party, Arizona, Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said including gay couples in immigration reform is ‘not of paramount importance’ (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A top Republican involved in the talks for a Senate deal on immigration reform said Tuesday the inclusion of gay couples in the final agreement is “not of paramount importance at this time.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seemed disinclined to accept a provision for gay couples as part of the immigration deal headed through Congress — calling such a provision a “red flag” — during an interview on “CBS This Morning.”

“We’ll have to look at it,” McCain said. “We’ll have to gauge how the majority of Congress feels, but that, to me, is a red flag that frankly, we will address in time.”

LGBT advocates are seeking a provision as part of comprehensive immigration reform that would enable gay Americans to sponsor a foreign same-sex partner for residency in the United States. Standalone legislation along these lines is known as the Uniting American Families Act.

The Senate blueprint unveiled on Monday by the “Gang of Eight” — a group of which McCain is a member — doesn’t mention any such provision. An aide for Sen. Charles Schumer, a leading Democrat involved in the talks, told the Washington Blade that language for gay couples “is among the many unresolved aspects of the negotiations, which is why it isn’t reflected either way in the outline.”

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, blasted McCain in a statement for his reluctance to accept a provision for bi-national same-sex couples as part of an immigration deal while accepting a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

“It defies logic that Sen. McCain would craft an immigration proposal that would reward gay people who came to this country illegally with a path to citizenship, but deny legal gay couples the opportunity to access the same immigration rights as opposite-sex couples,” LaSalvia said. “Under Sen. McCain’s vision for America, a gay American would be better off urging his or her partner to break the law, sneak across the border and come here illegally, and be granted amnesty by the senator.”

President Obama is expected to include a measure for same-sex couples as part of his own immigration reform plan that he’ll unveil in Las Vegas later on Tuesday.

During a press gaggle aboard Air Force One on the way to Nevada, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney hinted that Obama’s proposal would include UAFA.

“The president believes that it should be included and that should come as no surprise,” Carney said. “As we’ve said all along, this is consistent with the principles he has laid out over the last four years. And the president has long believed that Americans with same-sex partners from other countries should not be faced with the painful choice between staying with the person they love or staying in the country they love. And the president’s position on this is consistent with how we’ve approached prosecutorial discretion at [the Department of Homeland Security] and others.”

LGBT advocates, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they were involved in a call put together by Schumer on the issue in which Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) also participated. In the call, Schumer reportedly told advocates UAFA wouldn’t be in the Senate principles because Republicans were opposed to it.

Advocates said they were told UAFA might be put in the legislation at a later point and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) may offer an amendment in committee to include the provision as part of the package. Schumer also asked LGBT advocates to cooperate because the intention of the process was to bring along as many folks as possible.

Watch the video of McCain here (courtesy ThinkProgress):

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a comment from Jay Carney.


Romney still opposes marriage equality

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney still opposes marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney still opposes marriage equality (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney says he continues to oppose same-sex marriage — despite certain prominent figures within his own party and his own former advisers speaking out in favor of marriage equality.

In a four-minute segment of a previously unaired interview, the former Massachusetts governor told Fox News’ Chris Wallace that his position on same-sex marriage hasn’t evolved since the election.

“I believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a women, and that’s because I believe the ideal setting for raising a child is where there’s a mother and a father in the home,” Romney said. “Other people have differing views and I respect that, whether that’s in my party or in the Democratic Party. But these are very personal matters. My hope is that when we discuss things of this nature, we show respect for people who have differing views.”

Romney not only opposed same-sex marriage as ran against President Obama, but campaigned on a Federal Marriage Amendment that would have banned it throughout the country and pledged to resume the executive branch’s defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

On the same day Romney lost holding that position, marriage equality was legalized at the ballot in Maine, Maryland and Washington State and Minnesota voters rejected a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Despite Romney’s lack of change of position, a number of the 131 Republicans who signed the high-profile friend-of-the-court brief against California’s Proposition 8 were among his advisers.

Among the signers is Katie Biber, who served as general counsel for Romney both his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns; Beth Myers, who served as his campaign manager; Nancy Pfotenhauer, regulatory advisor for Romney during his 2008 presidential campaign; Lee Rudofsky, who was deputy general counsel for Romney in 2012; Josh Ginsberg, who was national field director for Romney in 2008; and Alex Lundry, who was director of data science for Romney in 2012.

Other signer of the brief are former Govs. William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift of Massachusetts, Republicans who were chief executives of the state prior to the state court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality — a decision that Romney later fought.

Gay conservative groups had differing reactions to Romney’s continued opposition to marriage equality.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative GOProud, dismissed Romney’s views as unimportant.

“I’m not sure why his opinion is relevant,” LaSalvia said. “Mitt Romney’s position on any issue has about as much relevance to the Republican Party as Michael Dukakis’s has to the Democrats.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Romney’s continued position is “not surprising,” but also noted the former GOP hopeful’s remarks that he respects differing views on the issue.

“I don’t think anyone would expect someone who was so assertive in his views on marriage to do a complete turnaround in the four months since the election,” Romney said. “What is interesting is Romney’s statement that he respects Republicans who believe in marriage equality. It shows that even among those opposed to civil marriage for same-sex couples, there is a knowledge that the voices in favor of the freedom to marry within the GOP can no longer be dismissed.”

Watch the video here at HuffPostGay


GOP at a crossroads as conservatives meet

Jimmy LaSalvia, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, GOProud, Florida, United States House of Representatives, Republican Party, GOP, gay news, Washington Blade

Jimmy LaSalvia and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) are urging the GOP to undertake greater outreach to the LGBT community. (Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

As conservatives from across the country prepare to descend on D.C. for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, some Republicans are urging the party to reach out and welcome the LGBT community.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) — perhaps the most pro-LGBT Republican U.S. House member and co-sponsor of legislation to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act — said in a statement to the Washington Blade that she hopes the Republican Party will reach out to the LGBT community.

“I am optimistic that the GOP will see the value of being more inclusive,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “More of my House colleagues need to come to the realization that establishing positive working relationships with the LGBT community in their districts is the right thing to do.”

It would be quite a turnaround for the Republican Party. The party lost the presidential election and seats in both chambers of Congress in 2012 after the standard-bearer in the election, Mitt Romney, campaigned on a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and said he opposed not only marriage equality, but civil unions.

Gay GOP groups have worked to spread the message that victory for the Republican Party means taking a more inclusive, “big-tent” approach.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said if the GOP doesn’t evolve to engage more with the LGBT community, the party will “hit a wall” and be unable to secure the support of not only gay conservatives, but young voters.

“What we’re looking at is a matter of addition-multiplication that can benefit the movement as opposed to subtraction-division, which will harm it, and ensure that we continue to lose elections,” Angelo said.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said the Republican Party needs to address gay issues because so many Americans know gay people and don’t want to cast votes for a party that opposes their interests.

“The gay issue is something that cuts across all demographic groups because politics is personal and everybody has a gay person in their lives, and so they think about how issues affect gay people,” LaSalvia said.

In last 13 years, LaSalvia counted two instances in which the leader of the Republican Party sought input from LGBT people: then-Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush’s meeting with the “Austin 12″ in 2000 and then-GOP nominee John McCain’s interview with the Washington Blade in 2008. In October, Log Cabin also met with Romney at a Virginia farmhouse just before Election Day to discuss LGBT issues, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

The Republican National Committee is set on Monday to make public an internal review of Election 2012 and make recommendations going forward. It’s unknown whether the report will address the party’s relationship with the LGBT community. The RNC didn’t respond to a request for comment about that report or whether it would say anything about outreach to the LGBT community.

On its face, CPAC represents the image of the Republican Party that has yet to embrace LGBT people. This year, an estimated 10,000 people are expected to attend the convention, which will take place from Thursday to Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.

Speakers at the event include rising Republican stars such as Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who’s expressed opposition to same-sex marriage and voted against LGBT-inclusive reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act as well as former Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, who campaigned last year in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage throughout the country.

Others include Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who gained notoriety recently for his 13-hour filibuster in the Senate over Obama’s use of drones and authority to use them in the United States, as well as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

Neither GOProud, which was banned from the event in 2011, nor Log Cabin will be co-sponsors of the event, although social conservative groups, such as The Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family’s CitizenLink will be in attendance.

Both groups told the Blade they didn’t actively seek to participate as sponsors during the event, but they also weren’t invited to attend. Angelo said Log Cabin was invited to participate in other CPAC-related events throughout the week, but opted not to attend.

Gregg Keller, executive director of the American Conservative Union, said in a statement to the Blade that GOProud — along with John Birch Society, an advocacy group supporting limited government — were barred in 2011 for reasons other than gay identity.

“The ACU Board voted in 2011 to not invite two groups to sponsor CPAC because of past disrespectful behavior toward conservatives and event attendees and that policy remains in place,” Keller said. “Although these organizations are not able to participate as sponsors, their members and supporters are welcome to purchase tickets and attend.”

LaSalvia responded by saying ACU’s stated reason for GOProud’s exclusion from CPAC is untrue.

“For two and half years we were under attack from anti-gay forces on the ACU board to keep us out of CPAC because we are gay,” LaSalvia said. “One of our board members called one of those anti-gay ACU board members a ‘bigot.’ He apologized, and they have used that incident as their reason to exclude us when the truth is they kicked us out because we are gay.”

Still, an unofficial event will be held on Thursday in the same building as CPAC that will highlight gay conservatives and tolerance, titled, “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” It’s hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute and will begin at 6 pm.

Speakers on the panel include LaSalvia as well as CEI Chair Fred Smith; Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for The National Review; CNN contributor and noted supporter of marriage equality Margaret Hoover; and the Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.

Despite the prominent anti-gay speakers at the event, CPAC is hosting no official panel with a specific anti-gay bent, or even one against same-sex marriage.

LaSalvia said he thinks social conservatives “are an important part of the coalition” that make up the Republican Party, but he doesn’t know what the future holds for conservatives who demonize gay people.

“And I’m not talking about people who oppose gay marriage; I’m talking about the ‘anti-gay-for-pay’ crowd,” LaSalvia said. “Because most Americans have gay people in their lives, they know that gays aren’t destroying America, they know that gays aren’t destroying civilization because gay people are in their families, and so they know better.”

Perhaps the most striking signal that the GOP is reconsidering its position on LGBT issues is a legal brief signed by 131 prominent Republicans calling on the Supreme Court to overturn California’s Proposition 8.

Signers of the brief, which was circulated by gay former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, included Ros-Lehtinen as well as her House colleague Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.). The brief also included many individuals who worked on the Romney campaign — including David Kochel, Romney campaign’s Iowa strategist, who’s said support for marriage equality is “emerging as a mainstream issue” in the GOP — as well as Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman, who campaigned in support of Prop 8.

Angelo said the brief “really crystalized” a greater acceptance of gay individuals in the conservative movement that he said “has been happening for years.”

“There have been people who have been elected officials at the grassroots level — and people who have been prominent staffers — who have been personally supportive of gay individuals in the past,” Angelo said. “What’s happening now is they’re becoming more outspoken in that support, and there is a true debate that’s happening within the conservative movement on this issue, specifically of marriage equality.”

Additionally, the 2012 election — in which three states legalized same-sex marriage and another rejected a constitutional amendment banning it — has shaken up presidential candidates’ views on same-sex marriage.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Mormon, expressed support for same-sex marriage in an op-ed for the American Conservative, while former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich reportedly told The Huffington Post the Republican Party must accept the reality of same-sex marriage.

In a recent Fox News interview, Romney said he continues to believe marriage is for one man, one woman, but he’ll “respect” other views on the issue.

These new views have led observers to believe that positions on marriage could divide Republican candidates when the compete in primaries for the nomination to run for the White House in 2016.

Angelo said 2016 is a “long way away” and thinks how the marriage issue will play out among the Republican candidates will become more apparent depending on the Supreme Court’s upcoming rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA.

“Will Republicans breathe a sigh of relief if DOMA is overturned and Proposition 8 is overturned because the issues are off the table, or is it going to be something that the Republican Party continues to pursue?” Angelo said. “Any presidential candidate that the party would put forth would have to deal with these issues as a political reality.”

Angelo said the debate within the Republican Party on LGBT rights is the result of an absence of negative consequences after the legalization of same-sex marriage in nine states and D.C.

“I know a lot of people would rather that there would be no debate at all and the movement go from completely opposing same-sex civil marriages to completely embracing it, but that’s not how these things happen,” Angelo said. “I’m definitely a realist in that regard, but things are definitely moving in the right direction.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to include a response from Jimmy LaSalvia on ACU’s stated reason for excluding GOProud from CPAC.


CPAC highlights GOP division on gay rights, marriage

Jimmy LaSalvia, GOProud, CPAC, Republican Party, GOP, gay news, Washington Blade, CEI, Conservative Enterprise Institute, Rainbow on the Right

Conservative pundits urged the GOP to evolve on the marriage issue at CPAC. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The message from Republicans on gay inclusion in the party was mixed as the Conservative Political Action Conference unfolded over the weekend. As one faction of the party was saying evolve or die, the other was saying there’s no need for change.

The push for Republicans to adopt a more inclusive tone was heard most distinctly during an unofficial event at CPAC titled, “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.”

That panel concluded just hours before Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced he supports marriage equality. But at the same time, leaders of the Republican Party — most prominently House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — continue to assert steadfast opposition to marriage equality.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud, was one of the lead speakers on the panel and advocated for a change in the conservative movement.

“In 2013, those who demonize gay people and oppose homosexuality are way out of the mainstream, because everyone has a gay person in their lives — and they know better,” LaSalvia said. “I believe that this issue contributes more to conservatives’ image problem than any other, because it’s an issue that cuts across all demographic groups. And it has to be addressed.”

LaSalvia, whose organization endorsed marriage equality in January, said the conservative movement has tolerated “anti-gay bigotry” for too long, but emphasized those who oppose same-sex marriage aren’t necessarily homophobes.

“Opposition to gay marriage isn’t, in and of itself, bigotry,” LaSalvia said. “There are, however, a few in our movement who just don’t like gay people, and in 2013 that’s just not OK in America anymore. Gay people are in every family, every circle of friends, and every community in the country now. Everybody knows a gay person.”

The panel, hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, was an unofficial event that took place in the Gaylord National Hotel as CPAC was underway. GOProud, along with the John Birch Society, was barred in 2011 from sponsoring the annual conservative conference and hasn’t been allowed back since. While the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, said the groups were barred because of “disrespectful behavior,” GOProud says they were barred from participating because it’s a gay organization.

On stage at CPAC, mention of marriage equality or other LGBT outreach was scant, although a few speakers brought up the issue. Most prominent was Sen. Marco Rubio, who said during his remarks on Thursday, “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday as the keynote speaker of a dinner honoring former President Reagan also warned against an anti-gay image for the Republican Party.

“Way too many people believe Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker, and the list goes on and on and on,” Bush said. “Many voters are simply unwilling to choose our candidate — even though they share our core beliefs — because those voters feel unloved, unwanted and unwelcome in our party.”

Portman announced that he’s had “a change for heart” and came to support marriage equality after his son Will, a student at Yale University, came out as gay two years ago.

“One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution,” Portman wrote in an op-ed for the Columbus Dispatch.

While the panel took place before Portman’s announcement, a number of prominent conservative commentators on the CEI panel, who spoke before a packed audience, advocated for a similar evolution in the Republican Party on marriage equality.

Jennifer Rubin, a conservative blogger for the Washington Post, said outreach to the LGBT community would be akin to the Republican Party’s effort to reach out to Latinos by working on immigration reform.

“I suggest that in another generation, or a half generation, this argument is going to be gone,” Rubin said. “Virtually every state in the union will have voted by popular vote; some may choose not to, and they’re going to experience whatever social and economic consequences flow from that. But in 10 years or so, no one is going to be talking about this.”

Earlier this month, polling analysis was unveiled by the LGBT advocacy Freedom to Marry showing opposition to marriage equality rests within three groups: white evangelical Christians, older people and non-college educated white people. Another notable statistic: 51 percent of Republicans under the age of 30 support marriage equality.

That last statistic was a point that Liz Mair, president of the Arlington, Va., consulting firm Mair Strategies, drew upon as she advocated for greater Republican outreach.

“The way that we’re going to talk about these issues and in some cases, the stands that we take on them, is going to prove to be a problem,” Mair said. “There’s something that needs to be addressed here, and that needs to be addressed now.”

Margaret Hoover, a conservative CNN contributor, also warned that continued opposition to marriage equality will harm the conservative movement as younger voters grow older.

“The millennial generation, the 30 and unders, are simply not hearing conservatism because they’re tuning us out based on a certain set of issues,” Hoover said. “Winning the argument and showing that we’re an inclusive movement is critical to not turning them off to a whole other rainbow of our other ideas.”

One question that sparked discussion concerned whether government should get out of the institution of marriage altogether — for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples — and simply allow individuals to form contracts with whomever they choose. That view was espoused last week by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who won the CPAC straw poll as the attendees’ preferred presidential candidate for 2016.

Mair explained that while many conservatives would like to see the government out of marriage, many aspects of government are involved in marriage, so support for marriage equality is the best option for libertarians.

“Unless you have a radical overhaul of the tax system, a radical overhaul of the entitlement system and, frankly, probably a radical overhaul of the immigration system, also, because that is going to affect certain same-sex couples, that’s not actually going to be a practical way of ensuring equality and rights,” Mair said.

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for the National Review, said he agrees the Republican Party needs to work on greater inclusiveness toward LGBT people, but noted that work needs to be done to hold onto social conservatives within the movement.

“You’re going to have to show me who you’re going to replace the 20 to 30 million social conservatives and evangelicals who may leave the party if you completely abandon some of those issues,” Goldberg said. “So the trick is to explain to people on our side why this is the right position because if you do that, you’ll have a great moral victory, but you’ll lose even more elections. It makes a lot more sense to try to persuade the people who agree with you on 80 percent of the issues to stick with you, than to say, ‘Go to hell over this one issue!’”

And remarks from other prominent Republicans over the weekend demonstrate the view that marriage is one man, one woman is still held by leaders within the party.

Most prominent is Boehner, who said in an interview on ABC “This Week” airing on Sunday that he couldn’t imagine his views on marriage changing, even if — like Portman — a child came out to him as gay.

“I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” said Boehner said. “It’s what I grew up with.  It’s what I believe. It’s what my church teaches me, and I can’t imagine that position would ever change.”

According to Roll Call, former Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum under questioning at CPAC indicated he was unmoved when asked about Portman’s newfound support for marriage equality, saying, “Just because someone changes their mind doesn’t change things.”

Santorum reportedly added Republicans are confronting “very difficult facts” in their live, but if marriage were just about “two adults who love each other,” there’s no reason not to let “three or four people” marry. His remarks reportedly generated loud applause.

And on a CPAC panel on bullying faced by conservatives, titled “Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander & Bullying from the Obama administration,” Brian Brown, president of National Organization for Marriage, maintained opposition to marriage equality is a conservative principle.

“When you hear someone act as if standing up and believing for the truth about marriage is not a conservative principle is not the truth, refuse to back down, refuse to be cowed, do not accept the notion that this is an issue that somehow we can’t talk about or we can’t debate,” Brown said. “Don’t accept the idea that we need silence on this issue. What we need is people standing up more than ever for marriage is the union between a man and a woman. What we’ve seen in state-after-state is that when people do this, far from being a losing issue, it’s a winning issue.”


RNC approves resolution against same-sex marriage

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RNC Chair Reince Priebus oversaw the approval of a resolution affirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Republican National Committee approved on Friday a resolution affirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

Multiple media outlets, including Bloomberg News, reported that RNC members approved the resolution during day two of their three-day spring meeting, which this year was held in Hollywood, Calif., under RNC Chair Reince Priebus. According to Log Cabin Republicans, the measure was approved by voice vote as part of a group of other resolutions.

The language of the resolution was earlier this week obtained by Yahoo! News. It reads, “[T]he Republican National Committee affirms its support for marriage as the union of one man and one woman, and as the optimum environment in which to raise healthy children for the future of America; and be it further resolved, the Republican National Committee implores the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the sanctity of marriage in its rulings on California’s Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act.”

According to Politico, the resolution was sponsored by Michigan Republican Party Chair Dave Agema, who recently came under fire for a Facebook post making false and offensive claims about gay people, including that they have shorter life spans than others.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, dismissed the importance of the resolution, but predicted actions such as approving anti-gay measures would lead to continued losses for the Republican Party.

“The platform is clear about the party’s position on marriage, so the resolution wasn’t necessary,” LaSalvia said. “This resolution was motivated by anti-gay bigotry and brought forward by RNC members who just don’t like gay people. Tolerating this kind of bigotry will only serve to turn off more and more voters, and until the leadership of the RNC is willing to confront and denounce bigotry in its own ranks, they will continue to lose elections. I guess they are not finished losing.”

The resolution is in line with the 2012 Republican Party platform, which not only opposes same-sex marriage, but endorses a constitutional amendment banning gay nuptials.

But the vote also comes in the wake of an “autopsy” report saying the Republican Party must undertake greater outreach to the gay community — and other minority groups — to fare better in upcoming elections. Additionally, the move comes amid growing support for marriage equality nationwide and after two Republican U.S. senators — Rob Portman (Ohio) and Mark Kirk (Illinois) — announced their support for marriage equality.

On Friday, a Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll affirmed that a majority of the American public backs same-sex marriage. The poll found that 53 percent of Americans support marriage rights for gay couples, while 34 percent of the public is opposed. The same poll found 63 percent of respondents believe the federal government should recognize same-sex marriages that are already legal.

Meanwhile, social conservatives have been expressing outrage over what they perceive as the Republican Party’s abandonment of its opposition to same-sex marriage. Gary Bauer, a leader in the evangelical Christian movement and prominent conservative, has threatened to bolt the GOP and form a third party. A letter to the RNC obtained earlier this week by NBC News and signed by 13 social conservatives — including Bauer, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, Phyliss Schlafly and James Dobson — warns that social conservatives will leave the Republican Party over marriage.

Still, some in the Republican Party who support same-sex marriage expressed outrage over the resolution in the wake of its passage. Among them was Liddy Huntsman, a leader of the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and daughter of former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr.

“As someone with high hopes for the GOP, I’m personally disappointed with this display of exclusion, especially at a moment when everyone – including party officials – acknowledge that we need a new direction,” Huntsman said in a statement. “We should be focused on a better future for all Americans, no matter who they love.”

Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he’s “unphased” by the passage of the resolution because he doesn’t expect it to have an impact on the growing momentum in support of marriage equality.

“I don’t think that any resolution that’s going to pass is going to stop that momentum,” Angelo said. “And largely this is something that is ceremonial. If voting on a piece of paper that simply states that what we said in August of 2012 is the same thing that we’re saying in April of 2013, they can knock themselves out, but it’s not stopping the momentum that’s on our side.”

And the Democratic National Committee took the opportunity to remind the LGBT community of the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.

“The differences between the two parties on issues important to the LGBT community are clear,” said DNC spokesperson Patrick Burgwinkle. “Once again Republicans have voted to enshrine as the policy of their party the discrimination of their fellow Americans. The Democratic Party is committed to supporting equal rights for all Americans and will continue to work with our allies in the LGBT community to advance the cause of equality for all Americans.”