NOTE: A final version of this piece will be printed as an op-ed Friday in the DC Agenda. It has certainly been quite the spotlight month for gay Republicans.
Earlier this month, there was a Senate hearing on repealing Don’t Ask Don’t tell (DADT), a Clinton era law that forbids gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the armed forces. While most of the Republican senators on the committee were against lifting the ban, in the days and weeks to follow, many GOP leaders have announced their support for lifting the ban.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, “Twenty years ago the military were strong advocates of DADT. I think things have change significantly since then.” Cheney continued, “When the [Joint] Chiefs come forward and say ‘we think we can do it,’ is strikes me that it’s time to reconsider the policy.”
In addition to the Vice President, Liz Cheney has said it was time for the policy banning gays in the military to end. So have General Colin Powell and several conservative journalists, including Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. General David Petraeus stated this week that he supports the review of lifting the ban.
Currently, Log Cabin Republicans vs. The United States of America, is the only direct challenge to the DADT policy. It is also the only contemporary legal challenge to this policy to succeed at the district court level.
Last Wednesday, The Cato Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank hosted a policy forum on gay people and conservative politics. Among the guests on the dais were Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage. While there were plenty of fireworks on display, the question of whether there was a place in conservative politics was never fully answered.
The very next day, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation’s largest conservative conference, began three days full of speeches, meetings, and activism. With few exceptions, the conference was void of many of the social policy discussions one often hears about when thousands of conservatives gather in one place.
The over all theme of CPAC this year was Freedom. Most of the panels and speeches were primarily about fiscal discipline, lower taxes and limited government.
Of course, there was some talk about the marriage issue. You had Phyllis Schlaffley, of Eagle Forum and Congressman Mike Pence advocating for a federal marriage amendment. But they were the exception instead of the norm.
The event took a very libertarian flank this year. Most assuredly, this is due to the fact of the rise of the Tea Party movement. Now before the teabagging jokes begin, it is important to note that according to recent polling, roughly 11% of all Americans say they “have actively supported the Tea Party movement,” while another 24% of the public generally favors the Tea Party movement. So there is growing Tea Party sentiments in the country.
The CPAC straw poll told a similar libertarian tail. When it came to asking which comes closest to your core beliefs and ideology, only 9 percent of participants selected “Most important goal is to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage.” And only one percent listed stopping gay marriage as one of their top two issues.
The most striking moment of the three-day event was when Ryan Sorba, of California Young Americans for Freedom, took to the podium in what was suppose to be a two-minute statement on youth activism. Instead, he condemned CPAC “for bringing GOPride [sic] to this event.” What happened next was even more shocking. As Sorba continued his tirade of the evils of the homosexual, the audience, which was at maximum capacity awaiting Ron Paul, began to boo him. The more he talked, the louder and hostile the audience became. There’s an old political axiom: know your crowd.
As been reported on these pages, as well as others, GOProud was one of many cosponsors of the conference. Ironically, they had a booth that was two tables down from the National Organization for Marriage booth. CNN got a shot of the two groups shaking hands and suggesting a beer summit. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. Just the very next day, angry because NOM couldn’t deliver a message personally, GOProud asked the question, “Who’s the pansy at CPAC?” referring to NOM’s issuing of a news release that day threatening to “Dede Scozzafava” any pro-marriage equality candidates.
Has the conservative movement openly welcomed gays and lesbian into their tent? Definitely not. But there is now dialogue and discussion. And as long as dialogue and discussion continue, we gay conservatives – homocons – will continue to try to change hearts and minds, one person at a time.