The Log Cabin Republicans, a lobbying group for gay Republicans, is regrouping after an election proved a national consensus against gay marriage has broadened its legislative goals this year. The group is reaching out to conservative organizations and vowing to be a partner with the Bush administration.
The group, which claims thousands of dues-paying members, paid $3,000 to co-sponsor the Conservative Political Action Conference, marking the first time a gay rights group has been officially recognized by the nation's annual gathering of conservative activists. They've also begun to lobby members of Congress about Social Security reform, changes to the tax code and immigration.
Both Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove addressed the conservative conference last week.
Last year, the Log Cabin Republicans declined to endorse Bush's re-election because the president had campaigned to amend the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriages. They lobbied hard to have the GOP remove the amendment from its platform before the Republican National Convention, but lost that battle as well.
The group formed an informal public affairs partnership with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's leading liberal gay rights group, and spent heavily on advertisements criticizing the administration's position on the amendment.
"Now the election of 2004 is over," said Christopher Barron, the Log Cabin Republicans' political director. "And we think there are opportunities to work with this president. The fact is the gay and lesbian community has to realize that the president won."
At CPAC, Barron was a featured speaker on a panel promoting personal retirement accounts for Social Security.
Barron said the Log Cabin members are "incredibly conservative" about taxes, national defense and Social Security. The group's Washington office keeps in close contact with the White House and the Republican National Committee.
On Friday, the Log Cabin Republicans sent out a press statement praising Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for introducing a proposal to permanently rescind estate taxes. In the release, Barron wrote that "[a] majority of Americans support permanent repeal of the economically unsound death tax which unfairly penalizes gay and lesbian families." Both Kyl and Nelson oppose same-sex marriage.
Working Together to Reach Common Goals:
The Log Cabins' liberal counterpart, the Human Rights Campaign, most recently condemned Bush for renominating conservative judge William Pryor to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and urged Democratic allies on the Hill to block his confirmation. On Thursday, the HRC called on Congress to investigate the Department of Health and Human Services for changing the name of a study panel on suicide among gay populations.
Unlike in previous years, however, when an ideological gulf and simmering acrimony between the two gay groups prevented them from cooperating, spokesmen for both groups use identical language to describe their relationship. The two groups say they will be close allies on legislation of mutual interest and respectful adversaries when necessary.
"Their approach is to work with Republicans to expand support for our issues within the Republican Party, and they are doing a very good job at that and should be supported 100 percent," said David Smith, the HRC's vice president for policy and strategy.
"Where we find common ground, we will work with them," Barron agreed.
Not Everyone Can Get Along
Barron said that the American Conservative Union, which coordinated CPAC, was very accommodating and was eager to put the group's willingness to participate to use. The ACU wanted to schedule a debate between Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Guerriero and Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a leading socially conservative public policy organization.
Upon learning that the ACU wanted Perkins to debate Guerrero face to face, the Family Research Council told CPAC it would not participate and hinted it might withdraw its co-sponsorship unless the panel was canceled, according to a conservative familiar with the dispute. The FRC reasoned that last year's election had decisively settled the debate over marriage within the conservative movement, according to the source.
Connie Mackey, the family group's vice president of government relations, told ABC News that as a sponsor, they had the right to assemble their own panel.
"We simply said, look, this is not going to fit with our panel," she said of the proposed debate. She said the FRC never threatened to leave the conference.
Asked about the dispute, Ian Walters, the ACU's communications director, declined to comment.
The Log Cabin Republicans did not protest, and the debate panel was changed to a discussion about the political efficacy of campaigns against same-sex marriage. All panelists favored the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Guerriero was added to a later panel about disagreements within the conservative movement about marriage. He debated Kevin Blier of the Center for American Cultural Renewal, an organization with no Washington presence and little clout with social conservatives outside Vermont where it is based.
Barron downplayed the panel controversy and said, "We are perfectly happy with the way the panels are set up now."
Even still, the Log Cabin's fit with the conservative group was loose. Several organizations distributed literature condemning gay political activism and efforts by gay rights groups to promote pro-gay legislation. One self-published book being hawked at a $10 discounted price included statistics purporting to show a correlation between homosexuality and pedophilia.
CPAC's convention has always featured a mix of organizations dedicated to a wide range of conservative causes. Prominent presenters included the Libertarian Party, the American Civil Liberties Union and Walt Disney World, the parent company of ABC News, which was recruiting conservatives to help them defend intellectual property protections.