Gays long loyal to GOP agonize over supporting Bush By Lisa Anderson Tribune national correspondent April 19, 2004 PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Hurt and embarrassed by President Bush's decision to support a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, many members of the GOP's most influential gay and lesbian political organization left their annual convention Sunday feeling betrayed by the president they worked to elect in 2000 and conflicted about giving him their endorsement or votes come November. "Obviously, this will be the most critical decision that Log Cabin Republicans ever will make," said Christopher Barron, 30, political director of the 10,000-member national group. While that issue is the thorniest and most divisive that gay Republicans confront, they are united, with gays of other political stripes, in their determined opposition to the passage of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which defines marriage as an institution between men and women. The challenge for the GOP gay community, said Log Cabin executive director Patrick Guerriero, is to shift the argument away from "marriage" to the more important conservative issue of defending the sanctity of the Constitution. He told the convention he had met with Bush at a White House Christmas party and asked him, "Please don't divide the nation by trying to amend the Constitution." On Feb. 24, the president announced his support of the amendment. "I apologize to the members of Log Cabin Republicans who are here today," said Guerriero, 36, standing before the convention. "I failed in my mission." Within days of Bush's announcement, the organization launched a $1 million campaign opposing the amendment. The TV advertising campaign involves a 30-second spot featuring Dick Cheney speaking during the vice presidential candidates' debate in 2000. In it, Cheney forcefully defends people's rights "to enter into any kind of relationship they want," notes that the legality of those relationships is regulated by states and says he does not see the need for a federal policy in that area. The ad ends silently with the lines "WE AGREE. DON'T AMEND THE CONSTITUTION." Endorsement weighed The decision on whether to endorse Bush or withhold any endorsement--the only two options under consideration--will be made by the 22 members of Log Cabin's board of directors during the Republican National Convention in August in New York City. Founded in 1978 to oppose a California ballot initiative seeking to ban homosexual teachers, Log Cabin has withheld an endorsement only once; in 1992 it declined to endorse George H.W. Bush for president because he did not denounce the anti-gay rhetoric at the GOP national convention in Houston. Much of the Palm Springs meeting involved discussion and opinion-gathering among the 300 gay men and the sprinkling of lesbians who attended the four-day event. According to the opinions expressed in discussion sessions and in individual interviews, many members are bitterly divided between their deep loyalty to the GOP and their deep anger at feeling they were being sacrificed to placate the religious right wing of the party. Many also said they feel torn between their identities as conservative Republicans and as gays who consider the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment as institutionalizing discrimination against them. "That feeling is palpable here," said Shawn Gardner, 35, an 8th-grade English teacher from Virginia. But so too, he said, is the passion among gay Republicans to make the party inclusive, despite what some see as the GOP's effort to marginalize them. "A million people forced to fight all their lives is a formidable force," said Gardner, referring to the 1 million gay voters who supported Bush in 2000, one-quarter of all the self-identified gays who voted, according to exit polling by the now-defunct Voter News Service. And, he added, "In a tight election, that can make the difference." Anti-amendment push Michael Huffington, the wealthy former congressman from California and ex-husband of commentator Arianna Huffington, already has given Log Cabin $100,000 for its media campaign against the amendment. During a panel discussion, Huffington, a self-identified bisexual, pledged to double that figure if the organization received the same amount from its members by April 27. In the first three hours after his offer, members donated $18,000. Asked how the GOP will respond to the political dilemma the amendment poses to gay Republicans, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Heather Layman said, "I think the president is clear on what his beliefs are. But people all across the country are Republicans because we all agree on the need to be fiscally responsible, on the need to have a strong national defense and on other important national issues." The "Outreach" section of the RNC Web site, GOP.com, lists more than three dozen groups targeted for attention by the party. But there is no listing for the gay and lesbian community. Asked why, Layman said, "I don't know the answer to that." Seeing an opportunity, the Democratic Party stepped up its efforts to recruit gay Republicans, said Eric Stern, director of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender outreach at the Democratic National Committee. On its Web site, the DNC posts a feature called "Leaving the Log Cabin" including samples of what it claims are "the hundreds of e-mails we've received from proud new Democrats." Stern said the correct figure is about 100 such e-mails but added, "I think fair-minded Log Cabin Republicans have had it with Bush." Some clearly have. "I will be voting for John Kerry. He's far more sensitive to the needs of the gay community than the president," said Peter Salometo, 59, a private investor in Palm Springs. Others will not abandon Bush over this single issue. "I'm for the president," said David Rappel, president of a travel firm in Valley Village, Calif. "This is the hot-potato issue," said Frank Ricchiazzi, 59, a Log Cabin co-founder and a committed Bush delegate to the national convention. An investor in Laguna Beach, Calif., Ricchiazzi said he never could vote for "John speak-out-of-both-sides-of-your-mouth Kerry." But he doesn't know if he will vote for Bush. "He's just given away the gay vote," said Carol Newman, a lesbian attorney in Los Angeles and an alternate delegate to the Republic National Convention, one of the more than two dozen openly gay delegates. `Loyal Republicans' At a strategy session for delegates to the national convention, Guerriero laid out a series of pre-convention events designed to "make it clear we are loyal Republicans." Plans include the renting out of Manhattan's elegant Bryant Park for a Log Cabin reception on the convention's eve--"literally a big-tent event under a big tent"-- with Republican Govs. George Pataki of New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California as hosts, he said. Guerriero urged delegates to use the August convention as an opportunity to display to the country and to the party that there are "thoughtful, conservative gay Republicans" and to "celebrate the fact there is a big tent in the Republican Party." Otherwise, he said, "If we abandon it, the far right will be able to claim it as their convention."