TAMPA, Fla. — You might think this would be a discouraging time to be a gay Republican.
Social conservatives steered the party’s platform committee to adopt deeply conservative positions, not only keeping the door shut on same-sex marriage but refusing to consider support for civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. On the stump, Republican candidates fire up crowds with promises to protect the institution of marriage by keeping it exclusively heterosexual.
So why do gay Republicans insist that things are going their way?
“The Republican National Committee under Reince Priebus has made it clear that we have a place at the table,” said Casey Pick, the programs director for the Log Cabin Republicans, the party’s leading gay and lesbian organization. “We may not have won completely yet, but we are making progress.”
Pick spoke Monday at a Log Cabin gathering that drew about 150 people to a waterside restaurant, where they celebrated the success of openly gay Republicans who won party nominations for office this year, and spoke of the change that they see coming as young people who are more open to gay rights take their place in GOP leadership.
“At times you can get really frustrated,” acknowledged Frank Ricchiazzi, an alternate delegate from California. “But you know what? … In the 1980s, I was afraid to walk around the state convention alone. I could see the hatred in the eyes of some of those people. Today, it’s just accepted.”
Ricchiazzi, 67, of Laguna Beach, helped found the Log Cabin Republicans in California in the 1970s. Back, then, he said, “the word ‘marriage’ wasn’t even in our vocabulary.”
Today, the Log Cabin group is trying to persuade the GOP “that the freedom to marry is a conservative value,” Pick said, adding, “Young conservatives are already there.”
Polls consistently show that young Americans of all political leanings are more supportive of same-sex marriage than their elders, and are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality in general. Asked about the party platform, Pick called it a “last gasp of opposition.”
“When you’ve got somebody backed into a corner, they fight back all the harder,” she said. “And that’s what’s happening today with social conservatives who have been dominant within the party but are rapidly losing their support.”
Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a conservative Christian organization, said the Log Cabin leaders were mistaken if they believed they would ever persuade the Republican Party to endorse same-sex marriage. He disputed polls that show that young people support same-sex marriage, but said that in any case, many who do will change as they age.
“Standing up for traditional marriage is a winning message, not just in the Republican Party but among voters as a whole,” he said. He called it “a settled issue in our party,” and urged the Log Cabin Republicans to “focus on the areas on which we can have agreement,” such as economic and national security policies.
That message is not entirely lost on the Log Cabin group, whose members say they are Republicans because they support most of the party’s agenda, and believe that social issues should take a back seat to the economy in this election.
“The most important thing in this election is jobs,” said Borden Moller, an engineer who is Ricchiazzi’s longtime domestic partner. “As the gay community, we have to look first at a good economy. … How can you enjoy gay marriage, gay equal opportunity, when you can’t get a job?”
Like others at the Log Cabin event, he said he believed Mitt Romney was better equipped than President Obama to manage the economy.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said about two dozen of the 2,286 delegates to the convention are openly gay, “maybe more, because the Republican National Committee doesn’t ask people their orientation — which is a good thing. Conservatives don’t play identity politics.”
He said the group is still compiling a list of its members who are running for office nationwide, but especially touted Richard Tisei, a congressional candidate from Massachusetts who could become the first openly gay Republican to be elected to Congress. Other Republicans have acknowledged being gay while in office, including former Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona, who spoke to the Log Cabin event.
“It really is a change,” Kolbe said, adding that early in his political career, “seeing a group like this was not something we could have imagined.”