On Dec. 27, the pro-gay conservative group Log Cabin Republicans took out an expensive full-page advertisement in the New York Times opposing Chuck Hagel as President Obama’s next secretary of Defense – a nomination expected any time. The ad was unusually controversial, seen by critics as jumping on remarks Hagel made years ago for which he has since apologized.
Nonetheless, the ad put the Log Cabiners in the public eye as the group had not been in months, perhaps years. Indeed, the group will likely have a higher profile in coming years.
Analysts, pollsters, and Republican insiders believe that the GOP will have to formulate more gay-friendly policies in order to attract a younger generation that is familiar and comfortable with homosexuals. “Young people today have never not known gay people,” says Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud. While older Americans were taught to see gays as deviant and dangerous, few of their grandchildren feel the same way. “The older folks are quite literally dying off,” he said.
No less a figure than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has agreed. “It is in every family. … It is in every community,” he said. “The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to … accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states — and it will be more after 2014 — gay relationships will be legal, period.”
What made Gingrich’s acknowledgement remarkable was that he has a record of deep hostility to the gay community. In December, Gingrich told a gay man during a campaign that he should simply vote for President Barack Obama. “The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization,” said Gingrich earlier in 2012.
And yet, Log Cabin and similar groups acknowledge that countering the strong social conservative wing of the Republican Party will not be easy. “Certainly it’s a vocal wing, but historically a big tent party,” says Greg Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Republicans win when they emphasize the core ideas of the party: low taxes and strong defense, among other things. They lose with traditional social conservatism.” LaSalvia agrees: “Demonizing gays hurts us with everyone; we need to marginalize that small group of bigots that frankly does exist.”
Traditionalists in the social conservatism movement are not buying it. “Regardless of what some might imagine, support for marriage isn’t a relic of the past,” wrote Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, in National Review. He gave numbers. In some cases, he pointed out, anti-gay marriage initiatives outdid Mitt Romney’s tally. In Washington state, Romney won 43 percent, marriage got 48 percent, for instance. “It suggests that we should redouble our efforts to re-educate a generation of heirs to the sexual revolution’s bitter fruits, who are deeply confused about the nature and social purpose of marriage.”
Still, Anderson concedes that the momentum is against his preferred definition of marriage. “Yes, exit polls showed the youth vote went for redefining marriage,” he writes. “And we do not naively deny that there are strong cultural headwinds against marriage.” But he is convinced the destructive effects of same-sex marriage will lead to a reassessment of its benefits, to the advantage of the social conservatism wing. “If we are correct about the likely harms of redefining marriage, then even a season of nation-wide genderless marriage and its consequences would lead to a reassessment—just as the harms of divorce and non-marital childbearing led to the marriage movement of the 1980s and 90s.”
Like LCR, GOProud is hoping to increase its clout among conservatives. But there are strong obstacles. The organization was banned from sponsoring the important Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012. GOProud will not be attending this year, either. “The board will be approving our budget next year, and it doesn’t include funds for CPAC,” says LaSalvia. “I have no plans to attend the conference.” Still, “If they come to us to apologize and ask us to come back this year, then of course, we would consider it.”
Undoubtedly, the two most prominent pro-gay Republican groups have suffered from their refusal to play nice with each other. As with so many small movements, internecine warfare has been as damaging as ideological opponents. “Its nemesis and counterpart” is how GOProud has been described in opposition to the Log Cabin Republicans. LaSalvia founded his group because he felt LCR was too liberal. GOProud does not consider same-sex marriage a priority, and thinks lower taxes would be the most effective way to promote equality.
Nonetheless, there are signs of détente in the movement. “Yes, the organizations are different, but there are areas of common ground, and there will be areas of common ground going forward,” says LaSalvia.
Angelo agrees: “The Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud are fighting for similar goals; we’re not enemies.”