View From the Hill

By Kerry Eleveld

Originally published on Advocate.com April 16 2009 11:00 PM ET

It's been a
conservative kind of week here in gay D.C. with GOProud, a new
gay conservative group, launching on to the national stage and
Log Cabin Republicans hosting its national convention, which
will wrap up on Saturday with an appearance by Meghan McCain --
yes, daughter of the senator -- who has practically burst on to
the marriage-equality scene in the last month.

In case you haven't
really been following Republicans -- who, admittedly, have
seemed a little lackluster these days on the Hill -- Ms. McCain
is an exception. In fact, here's a dose of straight talk from
her
Daily Beast blog post

this week, "Memo to the GOP: Go Gay":

"Recently, I
seemed to have rocked a few individuals within my party by
saying that I am a pro-life, pro-gay-marriage Republican. So if
anyone is still confused, let me spell it out for you. I
believe life begins at conception and I believe that people who
fall in love should have the option to get married."

Well, thank you, Ms.
McCain, for revealing that the two positions are not mutually
exclusive and, in fact, have little to do with each other.
Although polling suggests that a growing number of millennials
agree, the current leaders of the GOP haven't quite gotten
the memo yet. But one person who did is McCain's former
chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt, who made a
pro-marriage equality pronouncement shortly after Ms.
McCain's revelation.

So ponder this: What do
you get when two high-profile, under-40 Republicans come out
for same-sex marriage in the space of a month? While it may
fall short of a conservative revolution, I dare say it's
the first salvo in a battle for the soul of the party. In fact,
even as early 2012 hopefuls Palin, Huckabee, and Romney jockey
for socially conservative positions, others like Gov. Jon
Huntsman Jr. from the very red state of Utah are
staking out moderate positions on gay issues. Huntsman
delivered a Valentine shocker when he announced his support for
civil unions even though about 70% of his state
disagrees with him. No, it's not marriage, but it sure is a
proactive, affirmative statement for a Republican in the early
stages of plotting his path to the White House, and it sure is
exactly the same position President Obama holds.

Now is the time -- when
Republicans have suffered bruising and, in fact, demoralizing
losses in the last two election cycles; when GOP ideas seem
stale, outmoded, and unmoving to all but a slim minority of
conservative stalwarts -- now is the time to embark on an
inclusive discussion within the Republican Party. Which is why
I wish our movement had nothing short of a strongly united,
well-funded, energized group of gay Republicans who were cued
up to take a central role in this transformative time.

Instead, the Log Cabin
Republicans lost their executive director, Patrick Sammon, in
January, and a new conservative gay group has been founded by
two men who were passed over to replace him, Chris Barron and
Jimmy LaSalvia.

Although the liberal
left has numerous organizations engaging the fight for full
equality, splitting up GOP gays was been tried once before, in
2000, when Charles Francis founded the now-defunct Republican
Unity Coalition. Figuring Francis might have some insights, I
e-mailed him to see if he thought the climate was any better
nine years later. He didn't mince words. "On the national
stage, at this point in the life of the GOP," he wrote,
"there is not room for two groups; in fact, it is an open
question as to whether there is a role for any gay group in the
Republican Party, unless they totally de-gay themselves, and
then what is the point?"

We better hope there's
room for at least one gay Republican group because we are
heading into a period where legislatures will supplant courts
as the main battlegrounds for our rights and the movement will
be increasingly dependent on GOP lawmakers to push pro-LGBT
legislation over the goal line. Sure, liberals love to lampoon
the gay GOP, but without six Vermont Republicans in the house
who voted to override Gov. Jim Douglas's veto, the "Freedom
and Unity" state would still be civil-union territory. Or
consider New York, where Governor Paterson just announced his
marriage-equality bill. With the senate's slim 32-30 Democratic
majority and four Dems pledging to vote against the bill, we
will certainly need a handful of Republican senators to stand
up for marriage equality.

But even with the
advent of this new conservative gay group, the state
legislatures will be the sole domain of Log Cabin. GOProud will
focus on federal issues, Chris Barron said at their Wednesday
press conference. Their
10-point legislative agenda

did not, however, include hate crimes, employment
nondiscrimination, or relationship recognition. Barron -- who
was a political director for Log Cabin and worked on hate
crimes and ENDA legislation -- called those "laudable
goals" but, added his counterpart Jimmy LaSalvia, "there
are two dozen groups downtown already working on ENDA and hate
crimes."

OK, let's give hate
crimes a pass. It's not expected to be a particularly heavy
lift in Congress and a number of people subscribe to the idea
that our laws are already punitive enough for people who
perpetrate violence.

But employment
nondiscrimination? What a loss -- for a Republican who knows
the issue inside and out -- not to be lobbying GOP members of
Congress on behalf of LGBT people who work in 30 states across
the country with no legal protections.

I know a number of gay
Republicans and their ongoing struggle revolves around a
question of whether they should be gay first or conservative
first. GOProud's 10-point federal legislative agenda reads more
like a group that has taken conservative principles on issues
like tax reform, free-market health care reform, and privatized
Social Security and found positive outcomes for gay people
within those arguments. "Don't ask, don't tell" is perhaps
the only pro-gay agenda item they list that might upset the
conservative apple cart. (I am purposely excluding transgender
issues here because there is no mention of them in their
legislative agenda.)

On the positive side,
Barron said that as e-mails from about 500 new members poured
in this week -- he noted a "surprising" number of
them came from women. As a female journalist who spends most of
my time covering politics in rooms that are 85%-90% male, I
welcome any group that finds a way to bring more women into the
fold.

In fact, I welcome any
group at this juncture that can grow the number of pro-gay
conservatives. But I fear that Charles Francis is correct --
the movement doesn't have the bandwidth to support two GOP
groups. And if pro-gay activists are going to support any group
-- financially and otherwise -- I want it to be one that leans
toward being gay first and conservative second. Otherwise, as
Francis said, what's the point?