As a gay Republican at his party’s 1992 convention, Bob Kabel was sickened listening to Pat Buchanan’s infamous “Culture War” speech, a prime-time, fire-and-brimstone tirade against, among other things, the Democrats’ “amoral” and “militant” homosexual agenda.
“I remember being so appalled by that speech,” said Kabel, chairman of the Washington, D.C., Republican Party Committee and one of about 60 Log Cabin Republicans who gathered for a lunchtime event this afternoon at the Chambers Hotel in downtown Minneapolis. The organization is composed of openly gay and lesbian political conservatives and their supporters. It has about 20,000 members nationwide.
The GOP is a different party today than it was in Buchanan’s day, Kabel and other gay Republicans say. After sitting out the 2004 campaign, the Log Cabin Republicans this week enthusiastically announced their endorsement of Sen. John McCain for president.
In interviews, members also defended McCain’s vice-presidential selection, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, despite speculation that her socially conservative views might reopen “Culture War” wedge issues, which have so far been absent from both major party presidential campaigns.
“We’re hoping they stay focused on issues that unite us as Republicans and not divide us,” said Scott Tucker, communications director for the Log Cabin Republicans.
Group backed Bush in 2000 but not in 2004
The Log Cabin Republicans endorsed candidate George W. Bush in 2000 but rejected him in 2004 after his campaign used gay marriage as a wedge issue in an effort to win over conservative voters, said Jimmy LaSalvia, the organization’s programs and policy director.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited gay marriage. In 2004, President Bush supported an election-year bid to make gay marriage unconstitutional with the Federal Marriage Amendment.
McCain was among a small group of conservatives who opposed the amendment, calling it “antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.”
“On the most important issue that LGBT Americans faced in the last decade — the Federal Marriage Amendment — Sen. John McCain stood with us. Now we stand with him,” Log Cabin Republicans President Patrick Sammon said in a statement.
LaSalvia said the Log Cabin Republicans disagree with McCain on some issues, but “at the end of the day, his priorities are our priorities,” he said. They include low taxes, limited government, controlling wasteful spending and emphasizing strong defense.
Log Cabin Republicans are optimistic but admittedly in the dark about Palin’s positions on gay and lesbian issues. They cite Palin’s veto as governor of a bill that would have denied benefits to gay state employees and their partners. However, her reasons for vetoing the legislation are complicated.
The Associated Press has reported that she didn’t sign the bill on the advice of the Alaska attorney general, who adviser her it would be unconstitutional. The bill was a direct response to a 2005 Alaska Supreme Court decision requiring the state to offer benefits to same-sex partners.
A statement released with Palen’s veto suggests she opposed the benefits: “The Governor’s veto does not signal any change or modification to her disagreement with the action and order by the Alaska Supreme Court.”
And Palin has never had to take a public position on several other issues of importance to gays and lesbians, including gays in the military and employment discrimination, LaSalvia said.
Still, those interviewed Thursday remained optimistic that her presence would not inject gay marriage as a wedge issue.
“The reality is she gave a 40-minute speech last night and had every chance to bring it up but didn’t. So we’re one for one,” said John Sinovic, vice president for development with the Log Cabin Republicans.
And even if she opposes gay marriage, Kabel argues she’s no worse than the alternative.
“You know, she’s not supportive of gay marriage, but neither is Barack Obama, neither is Hillary Clinton,” Kabel said. “To me, that’s not a litmus test of anything these days.”