One Party, Two Camps

GOPround and Log Cabin continue their split in the wake of GOP convention, but agree that the Republican party is becoming more welcoming

By Justin Snow
Published on September 6, 2012, 8:26am | Comments

As gay Republicans headed home at the end of the Republican National Convention last week, many seemed content with how they had been received by straight members of their party in Florida.

Although the GOP had reinforced their opposition to marriage equality with harsh language in the national party platform and by selecting Mitt Romney as their nominee for president, gay Republicans remained optimistic about their future in the party.

R. Clarke Cooper

R. Clarke Cooper

In a statement released the day after Romney officially became the Republican presidential nominee, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper declared ''gay conservatives absolutely have a place within the Republican Party.''

It was a sentiment echoed by GOProud executive director and co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia, who told Metro Weekly in a phone interview from Tampa, Fla., that his organization received a warm welcome from Republican delegates.

Although both groups are confident that the Republican Party will continue to grow more inclusive of gay members, the differences between the GOP's two leading gay camps could not have been more apparent in Tampa.

It began after the committee responsible for drafting the Republican Party's national platform reinforced anti-gay positions with strong language opposing marriage equality and supporting the Defense of Marriage Act.

Members of LCR were on the front lines of the platform debate and attended committee hearings to advocate for inclusive language. Although Cooper called the final platform language, which was approved by delegates at the convention, ''unwise,'' he said he was pleased by the ''solid debate'' over issues like marriage equality.

LaSalvia of GOProud was less complimentary, telling Metro Weekly that those who had elevated the platform debate to a public fight had done a disservice to the Romney campaign.

''Log Cabin, by making their public statements, have put a bull's-eye on gay issues and given Tony Perkins and his folks the opportunity to pull out their canon and publicly blast them,'' LaSalvia said after the platform language was revealed in August. ''We knew how this was going to end up. By blowing it up in public, they made a perfect recipe for disaster.''

LaSalvia has stood by his criticisms of LCR's efforts, telling Metro Weekly Aug. 31, ''I do not think a public fight with a very public body slam is helpful to our efforts. Not only is it not helpful to the Romney campaign, it's not helpful to efforts to change the language.''

In an interview with NPR, LCR's programs director, Casey Pick, appeared to agree that LCR's presence at the platform hearings emboldened marriage-equality opponents like Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who helped write the marriage plank.

"When you back someone into a corner, they fight back twice as hard," Pick told NPR. "We lost. And you could say the social conservatives in our party dropped the hammer harder because we were there."

''It is disappointing that the platform adopted in the early days of the convention will not help to elect Republicans in November because of its aggressive and divisive language on social issues,'' Cooper said, adding that LCR has a place at the table, which they ''intend to use it to build a stronger, more inclusive GOP.''

Jimmy LaSalvia

Jimmy LaSalvia

(Photo by Todd Franson)

GOProud has been quick to criticize LCR's attempts to influence the Republican Party's national platform, further exposing differences between the two leading representatives for gay conservatives and what they view as their ultimate goal.

The two groups have butted heads ever since GOProud was founded in 2009 to counter what they describe as LCR's moderate political positions. This election year has been no different. Whereas LCR focused their efforts on the party platform, GOProud opted to focus their efforts elsewhere.

According to LaSalvia, more than 800 people attended GOProud's party at the convention, Homocon, making it the largest event ever held by a gay organization at a Republican National Convention.

''It sent an important message that gay people are a part of the conservative movement and that the conservative movement does in fact embrace and welcome gay conservatives,'' LaSalvia told Metro Weekly.

Taking a jab at LCR, LaSalvia added that more people attended Homocon than read the Republican Party's national platform, which LaSalvia describes as ''meaningless.''

''Everybody has [out] gay people in their lives now,'' LaSalvia said. ''Republicans aren't any different from anybody else. People are thinking about these issues in a very personal way now.''

Despite differences between LCR and GOProud, both groups agree that LGBT issues are no longer as divisive as they once were.

Indeed, throughout the four-day convention, there was little mention in any of the major speeches about marriage equality, with even social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum choosing to focus more on the economy and jobs.

Romney only briefly mentioned same-sex marriage in his 40-minute acceptance speech, stating that he will ''honor the institution'' of marriage as president.

So far, GOProud has endorsed Romney for president, whereas LCR has not yet announced whether they will officially support Romney.

In Charlotte, N.C., site of the Democratic Party convention from Sept. 4 to Sept. 6, LGBT issues are a more prominent topic.

President Barack Obama's decision to endorse marriage equality, repeal ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell,'' and to stop defending the constitutionality of DOMA has earned him the support of many in the gay community. The convention alone boasts more than 500 LGBT delegates.

Nevertheless, for gay conservatives Obama's support for gay issues is admirable, but does not mean they'll turn that admiration into ballot-box support.

''I'm sure they will be beating the drum on any issue they can think of other than jobs and the economy,'' LaSalvia says of the Democratic National Convention. ''But the reality is most Americans, including gay Americans, are worse off than they were four years ago. This election is much bigger than any other issue. It's about electing a president who can bring our country back and get the economy back on track.''