One million of them voted for President
George W. Bush in 2000 and many still support the
president on everything from taxes to his terrorism policy.
And yes, there are plenty of them in those crucial swing
states. There’s just one snag — these Bush-backers
happen to be gay and lesbian, and that, in the eyes of
today’s Republican Party, is a problem.
Wednesday, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay and lesbian
group, made it clear that it has had enough of Bush’s pandering to the radical right, particularly on the issue of same-sex marriage, which the president supports a constitutional amendment to prohibit. Log Cabin announced
that it will not endorse Bush this election, making it the
first time it will withhold its endorsement from a
Republican candidate.* As Patrick Guerriero, executive
director of Log Cabin Republicans, argues in the group’s
“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…The President’s use of the bully pulpit, stump speeches and radio addresses to support a Constitutional amendment [banning gay marriage] has encouraged the passage of discriminatory laws and state constitutional amendments across America. Using gays and lesbians as wedge issues in an election year is unacceptable to Log Cabin.”
It was not supposed to be this way. Bush ran on a platform of “compassionate conservatism” in 2000 and got the Log Cabin’s endorsement with the understanding that he would not turn back the clock on gay and lesbian rights. 2000 was also the year during which Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe became the first openly gay delegate to address the Republican National Convention.
2004 couldn’t be more different. At this year’s convention, Log Cabin and other groups, could not even get the party to adopt a unity plank acknowledging disagreements on gay and lesbian rights as legitimate. Instead, the party platform not only endorsed the divisive constitutional amendment—which could not muster enough support to bring the matter up for a vote in the Senate—but denounced any formal recognition or benefits to homosexual unions. It also deemed homosexuality “incompatible with military service.” This, mind you, at a time when the troops are overstretched and many gay and lesbians in the military are being fired already. As a recent University of California at Santa Barbara study concluded, from 1998 to 2003, some 9,682 gay and lesbian service members were discharged under President Bill Clinton’s infamous “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
But back to marriage, which, as voters have been reminded over and over again by President Bush and others, is a “union between a man and a woman.” Groups like Family Research Council, Eagle Forum, and American Conservative Union, as our very own Barry Yeoman reported from New York, were responsible for hardening the language of the party’s platform. They even engaged in some mean-spirited humor by distributing thousands of fortune cookies to the delegates, some of which read “Real Men Marry Women.”
Why is Bush pandering to the broken record of the party’s self-declared moralists on this issue? It is all about shoring up the “base.” Log Cabin Republicans point to the 45,000 homosexual Bush voters in Florida who given him the state and the presidency, but Karl Rove only has eyes for the estimated 4 million evangelical voters who stayed home in 2000. Bush’s Democratic opponent, John Kerry, opposes gay marriage, but his support for civil unions and criticism of the constitutional amendment provides enough ammunition to portray him as aiming to bring down the revered institution. Besides delivering the base, Rove is gambling that Bush’s stance will resonate among moderates and the polls suggest that this may just be the case. According to a February Newsweek poll, 58 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage and 50 percent oppose civil unions. They are divided on the constitutional amendment, with 47 percent supporting it and 45 percent opposing it. 54 percent say that the gay marriage will play some importance in casting their vote. In short, Rove is betting that Bush has more to gain than to lose by burning down the Log Cabin.
Not that the party’s social conservatives were all smiles about the festivities in Madison Square Garden. True, they got their way on the party platform, but the prime-time line-up included speakers like the pro-abortion, pro-gay rights California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the run-up to the convention, Vice President Dick Cheney, noted that he has a lesbian daughter and that when it comes to marriage, “freedom means freedom for everyone.” By arguing that state’s should decide the matter, Cheney views were slightly, to say the least, different from Bush’s. To make the zealots proud, the ever-delusional Illinois Senate contender Alan Keyes denounced Cheney’s daughter Mary—who was at the convention, but notably not on stage with the rest of the family after Cheney’s speech—as a “selfish hedonist,” saying that Cheney can’t deny the “truth” of the matter.
The Log Cabin statement, besides expressing its anger with the Bush, also criticized Kerry for “flip-flops” on gay marriage. For many gay and lesbian Republicans, ideological differences will preclude voting for a Democrat, but some will take the plunge. At a Log Cabin function in New York, Stephen Rivoli told Yeoman, that by the time Bush’s endorsed the constitutional amendment, there were plenty of other let-downs:
“It was disappointing to see a president who ran on a platform of compassion acting like a right-wing non-compassionate conservative. Bush was already leading us down the dark path: a Medicare bill that didn’t provide the services needed; non-conservative treatment of the environment; lying about the war in Iraq. So it was hard to feel betrayal at the time.”
The Log Cabin has recently launched a TV ad urging the party reject the fear-mongering politics of Jerry Falwell & Company. As a contrast, it appeals to Ronald Reagan’s speech at the party’s 1992 convention: “Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears.” Unfortunately, it is quite clear that be it domestic or foreign policy, Bush’s reelection team is betting on fear as a winning campaign strategy this November.
*Correction: this is actually the first time the Log Cabin Republicans have withheld their endorsement from a Republican candidate since the group opened its national office in Washington DC in 1993—but not the first time they’ve failed to endorse a Bush. In 1992, LCR refused to back the re-election of George H.W. Bush, because the then president had yielded to the gay-bashing rhetoric of social conservatives like Pat Buchanan.