Concerns Over Gay Issues Challenge GOP

Arguments among Christian conservatives -- primarily that many of the gay men caught up in the Mark Foley scandal prove that Republicans have been too tolerant -- threaten to tear the party apart.

"It's time for what we call a 'Come to Jesus Meeting,'" said Rev. Lou Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. "Homosexuality is a dysfunctional lifestyle, and it must be addressed."

"Has the social agenda of the GOP been stalled by homosexual members and/or staffers?" Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council wrote in an e-mail to activists. "Does the party want to represent values voters or Mark Foley and friends?"

But gay Republicans say this is sheer bigotry.

"Sexual orientation had nothing to do with what happened here," Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said. "And the anti-gay group should be ashamed for what they're trying to do."

It is often labeled an open secret on Capitol Hill that even Republican officeholders who are the most hostile to gay rights in public have gay staffers and are much more tolerant of gays in private than their public personas might imply.

In the executive branch of the federal government, the President Bush White House won a second term partly by campaigning against gay marriage.

"Our society is better off when marriage is defined as between a man and a woman," Bush said in August 2004 at a campaign stop in New Mexico.

But while the president has openly admonished gay marriage, others in the administration have seemed perfectly accepting of such unions.

This week Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swore in AIDS czar Dr. Mark Dybul, who is openly gay. His partner, Jason Claire, held the Bible.

With first lady Laura Bush looking on approvingly, Rice singled out Claire as Dybul's partner and referred to Claire's mother as Dybul's mother-in-law.

"You have wonderful family to support you, Mark," Rice said.

John Aravosis, an openly gay man who once worked for conservative Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, said these seeming contradictions reveal Republican hypocrisy.

"They are demonizing gays publicly and privately, saying come on down, we have no problem with you," he said -- a statement that, surprisingly, religious conservatives agree with.

"They have overlooked what the base is, and they've walked away from it," Sheldon said.

For now, the question that lingers is whether differing approaches to homosexuality within the Republican party will keep religious conservative voters home this election day.

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