After months of being shut out by the conservative faction of the Republican Party, national gay political group Log Cabin Republicans has decisively voted not to endorse President George W. Bush for reelection.
The 22-2 vote, a sweeping change in tradition, was decided by the group's 25-member national board on Tuesday night. Log Cabin will not endorse any candidate for president, as its bylaws allow the group only to endorse or withhold support for the Republican Party's choice.
In a written statement, Log Cabin's national leadership underscored the gay and lesbian group's continuing commitment to the Republican Party.
"Certain moments in history require that a belief in fairness and equality not be sacrificed in the name of partisan politics; this is one of those moments," said Log Cabin Republicans executive director Patrick Guerriero. "The national board's vote empowers Log Cabin to maintain its integrity while furthering our goal of building a more inclusive Republican Party. Log Cabin is more committed than ever to its core mission to build a stronger and more inclusive Republican Party. There is a battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party, and that fight is bigger than one platform, one convention, or even one president."
Log Cabin's announcement ends months of speculation over whether the group, which claims 12,000 members in 40 chapters nationwide, would choose to back a president who has become more and more vocal about his opposition to equality for gay and lesbian Americans and their families. The vote marks the first time since the organization opened a national office in Washington, D.C., in 1993 that it has not endorsed the Republican nominee for president. Log Cabin endorsed Bob Dole in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2000.
For the past year Log Cabin has found itself in a delicate position with a divided membership. Most of its members staunchly adhere to the traditional tenets of the Republican Party in the form of advocating fiscal conservatism, smaller government, and strong defense policies.
The group held its annual national convention in Palm Springs, Calif., in April, less than two months after President Bush publicly announced his support for the antigay Federal Marriage Amendment. At that meeting, members were split on whether to support the president. Many stood firmly against endorsing Bush unless he withdrew his support from the FMA. But others stood with the president, despite an aggressive campaign by Log Cabin's national office to oppose the FMA. Those members at the convention expressed unwavering support for Bush because of his positions on such issues as homeland security, taxation, and foreign policy. They simply dismissed the FMA as a necessary political evil that had no hope of passage.
"Log Cabin has proudly supported the president's firm leadership in the war on terror," said Guerriero in Tuesday's statement. "As principled Republicans, we believe in our party's commitment to a strong national defense and a confident foreign policy. We especially applaud the President's leadership in cutting taxes for American families and small businesses, his belief in free market principles, and his compassionate and historic leadership in the global fight against HIV/AIDS."
Guerriero added, "Some will accuse us of being disloyal. Log Cabin's decision was made in response to the White House's strategic political decision to pursue a reelection strategy catered to the radical right. The president's use of the bully pulpit, stump speeches, and radio addresses to support a constitutional amendment has encouraged the passage of discriminatory laws and state constitutional amendments across America."
In 2000, under executive director Rich Tafel, Log Cabin gave Bush a stamp of approval that helped him win an estimated 1 million conservative gay votes. Back then, however, Log Cabin members believed the president when he said he was a compassionate conservative and "a uniter, not a divider"; his position at the time was that marriage laws should be determined at the state level and that no federal policy was necessary other than the existing Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Clinton during his own reelection campaign in 1996.
After LCR endorsed a more gay-friendly John McCain during the 2000 Republican primary campaign, an informal group of conservative gay men and lesbians, known as the Austin 12, met with Bush in person and acted as a kind of sounding board for the Bush-Cheney campaign. The president said he was a "better man" for the interaction, and gay rights groups expressed hope that Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary, would speak out for equality. Openly gay congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona subsequently spoke at the Republican National Convention that year.
No such overtures to gay conservatives have been evident in the 2004 campaign. Although several dozen openly gay and lesbian delegates were in attendance at last week's Republican National Convention, no openly gay elected officials spoke to the gathering. Mary Cheney was seen in the audience but did not join her family on the dais; although instrumental in her father's reelection campaign, she has remained silent and largely invisible during the entire Bush-Cheney administration.
The party's platform, adopted at the convention, calls for amending the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and to eliminate any other laws--federal, state, or local--that recognize, protect, or grant benefits to same-sex couples, such as civil unions or domestic partnerships. A "unity plank" proposed by LCR and other moderate Republican groups, which would have acknowledged differences of opinion on specific social issues including gay equality, was summarily rejected by the platform committee. The moderate groups either failed to win the support of enough delegates to bring the issue to the convention floor or chose not to.
On Thursday night, President Bush explicitly endorsed the party's antimarriage position during his acceptance speech.
The convention was apparently the last straw for LCR's national board. Instead of supporting the president, Log Cabin officials said they will devote the group's financial and political resources to electing fair-minded Republican allies to local, state, and federal offices. Log Cabin expects to endorse more than 50 GOP candidates for the U.S. House and Senate. "Log Cabin's national board has voted to withhold a presidential endorsement and shift our financial and political resources to defeating the radical right and supporting inclusive Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives," said Log Cabin board chairman William Brownson of Ohio.
The group will also continue its battle to convince conservatives to oppose the FMA and the harmful antigay rhetoric that accompanies the debate over gay equality. Last week the national office launched a new television advertising campaign to take its fight for the GOP's future directly to the American people.
Log Cabin continues to hold out hope that the Republican Party's sweepingly antigay platform does not reflect the personal views of the president. "For six months the president has made it clear what he opposes. He opposes civil marriage equality; however, he has failed to articulate clearly what he supports," said Log Cabin political director Christopher Barron. "Does he support federal civil unions? Does he support domestic partnerships? Does he support tax fairness for gay and lesbian couples? Does he support employment nondiscrimination? Does he support hate-crimes legislation? Does he support allowing gay and lesbian service members to serve openly and honestly? An organization's endorsement means nothing if it does not have to be earned."
Whatever Bush's position on those issues, Barron added, "it is impossible to overstate the depth of anger and disappointment caused by the president's support for an antifamily constitutional amendment."
The effect on local Log Cabin chapters of the national board's decision not to endorse the president remains to be seen. If some disagree with the board's decision, the group may face a schism akin to the one that has developed in the Anglican church, in which local members attempt to distance themselves from their own national leadership. The fight for the soul of the Republican Party may also become a fight for the soul of the Log Cabin Republicans.
For the moment, however, Log Cabin's national leaders are standing firm in their decision to support only gay-friendly candidates. "Every victory by fair-minded Republicans is a victory for the future of our party," Guerriero said. "We have made it clear that we can either be the party of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani or we can be the party of Alan Keyes and Rick Santorum."