In a momentous vote at the California Republican Convention on Sunday, the party officially recognized its gay wing, the Log Cabin Republicans with “charter status.”
It is a huge victory for conservative gay activists like state Log Cabin President Charles T. Moran, who told me after the vote, “I’m excited. Really, more than anything what this means is the Republican Party realizes and has affirmed the work we do to take our conservative message to disaffected Independents and Democrats to let them know they have a home in the Republican Party.”
Acceptance by the party’s base of activists comes after years of work by people like Ritch Colbert, former head of the Los Angeles Log Cabin chapter, who remembers how tough it was.
“People were always very curious about Log Cabin,” Colbert says, “but invariably we would encounter resistance — people who thought we weren’t really Republicans or that we didn’t belong. But it’s also fair to say there were supporters and people who encouraged us…. It’s just that we never had supporters in sufficient numbers to become sanctioned and chartered.”
But the Republican alienation of gays and lesbians never had to happen, says Frank Ricchiazzi, who co-founded the national Log Cabin Republicans in 1977.
Speaking from his Laguna Beach home, Ricchiazzi says at one time in California gays and lesbians were registering “Republican” at the same percentage as the population in general.
Ricchiazzi blames the conservative activist group, the California Republican Assembly, for alienating gays.
“We watched the state Republican party diminish in Republican registered voters because of the intolerance of the CRA and poison the state Republican party,” Ricchiazzi says.
But the weekend vote puts the state party in line with what many have known for decades: there have always been gays and lesbians involved in Republican politics, both as organizers and as voters.
The party’s vote for inclusion removes much of the hypocrisy that pretends gays don’t exist in big numbers in the Republican world.
Consider that George W. Bush got 25 percent of the gay and lesbian vote in 2000, according to exit polls compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.
And even in 2004, when Karl Rove put anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots of 11 states, Bush still got 23% of the gay vote.
Four years later, when nominee John McCain came out against same-sex marriage, it was despite his own Senate chief-of-staff being a gay man.
Fast forward another four years to Mitt Romney, who also opposed marriage equality, without mentioning that he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy saying, “I’ll be better than Ted for gay rights.”
But times have changed. At last week’s annual conservative convention sponsored by CPAC, any talk about gay marriage was “a non-starter,” reported Time Magazine.
Much more interesting at CPAC were all the people who were using the app for Grindr, the gay hook-up and dating site. Reporter Paul Detrick of Reason TV tracked Grindr useage at the convention, and he even managed to interview a few of the many Grindr Republicans on camera .
When Jeb Bush was asked about same-sex marriage at CPAC he only would say, “I believe in traditional marriage.”
He didn’t mention that he has just appointed an openly-gay GOP operative as communications director for his upcoming campaign. Bush has also called for “respect for the good people on all sides of the gay marriage issue.”
The fact is, Bush and every other Republican knows what the future looks like – that future being as close as 2016.
The Washington Post reported last week on “The most surprising gay marriage poll we’ve seen in a long while.” That’s the poll from NBC News and Marist College that shows half the voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina say opposition to gay marriage is “unacceptable” in a candidate.
All of this might mean more LGBT voters are ripe for Republican picking, especially since gay rights groups are clearly willing to support Republican allies.
Equality California, the state’s most powerful LGBT political organization, gave a 100% score on gay rights to Republican Assemblyman Brian Mainschein and State Senator Anthony Cannella in 2014. But EQ’s executive director, Rick Zbur warns, with “Other members of the Republican Party using antiquated, offensive terms like ‘gay lifestyle and agenda’ to describe their party’s embrace of LGBT people, clearly we must continue education about equality across California and beyond.”
Zbur adds, “We’ve also seen Republican candidates continue to use our community as a wedge issue in campaigns just last year, so our work at EQCA is far from over.”
That’s a good note of caution, given the Republicans’ history, as the state party comes out of the closet to court its gay and lesbian members.