At the time, Ashcroft asserted that unlike race and gender, homosexuality "is clearly a choice — a choice that can be made and unmade," according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle.
"It is a difficult challenge for the civil rights and gay community because of his record in the Congress," said Steve Gunderson, a former congressman from Wisconsin who was the first openly gay Republican member of Congress. Gunderson said gay Republicans would like to hear Ashcroft out before passing judgment.
But, he said, "in some respects, you can't change a person's history. You can't change his voting history or his public statements. He is going to have to answer to them."
Many gay rights activists also say they find Bush's nomination of Gail Norton for interior secretary disturbing.
Norton, formally Colorado's attorney general, strongly defended the voters' passage of Amendment 2, which denied gays the right to legal protection against discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the law in 1996, saying it was "born of animosity" toward gays.
But Norton continued to defend the law. "Even beyond the issue of sexual orientation, Amendment 2 raised a deep question about civil rights law: Is there a way to step back from the proliferation of special rights conferred on the basis of various characteristics?" she wrote in The Denver Post.
Bush’s History on Gay Rights
Piazza, the Dallas pastor, was sitting in his office in 1999 when he got a call from a Republican state legislator who was upset about a closed-door meeting he had with then-Gov. Bush and other leading Republicans.
The meeting was about the highly publicized hate-crime bill in Texas that was being debated 18 months after James Byrd was killed — dragged behind a truck — in a shocking racial murder near Jasper, Texas.
The legislator, according to Piazza, told him that Bush told the Republicans leaders: "Do not send me a bill with sexual orientation in it." The bill at the time included a clause that protected people against bias because of their sexual orientation.
"It was purely a ploy for him to make sure he got support of the right wing of the party," Piazza claims.
But Bush has said he simply opposed the legislation because he believes that "all crime is hate crime."
Gay supporters of Bush say many gay people care more about economic issues, not whether they will be harassed or discriminated against at work.
"Most gay people are pretty secure in their jobs and not afraid of being victims," said Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican organization.
"We're worried about the economy, worried about spouses getting proper benefits, their inheritance," Ivers says. "They are about their children. They want to adopt and they want their children to go to decent schools. These are the kinds of things that gays feel a lot more passionately about."
These, Iver says, are things worth fighting for. But, he admits, these issues are tough in any administration.
"The time has come to reach across all the various divides and say we will work together," Ivers says. Bush, he notes, has pledged to do just that.