Suddenly, the California Republican Party is as gay as IKEA on Super Bowl Sunday. Okay, not exactly.
Still, it was a momentous vote, when the California Republican Convention last weekend officially recognized its gay wing, the Log Cabin Republicans with “charter status.”
It’s a huge victory for conservative gay activists like state Log Cabin President Charles T. Moran, who told me after the vote, “I’m excited. Really, more than anything what this means is the Republican Party realizes and has affirmed the work we do to take our conservative message to disaffected Independents and Democrats to let them know they have a home in the Republican Party.”
Acceptance by the party’s base of activists comes after years of work by people like Ritch Colbert, former head of the Los Angeles Log Cabin chapter, who remembers how tough it was:
“People were always very curious about Log Cabin, but invariably we would encounter resistance — people who thought we weren’t really Republicans or that we didn’t belong,” Colbert says. “But it’s also fair to say there were supporters and people who encouraged us. . . It’s just that we never had supporters in sufficient numbers to become sanctioned and chartered.”
How GOP-gay marriage went bad: The Republican alienation of gays and lesbians never had to happen, says Frank Ricchiazzi, who co-founded the national Log Cabin Republicans in 1977*. Speaking from his Laguna Beach home, Ricchiazzi recalls that at one time in California, “gays and lesbians were registering Republican” at the same percentage as the population.
Ricchiazzi blames the conservative activist group, the California Republican Assembly, for alienating gays. “We watched the state Republican party diminish in Republican registered voters because of the intolerance of the CRA and poison in the state Republican Party,” Ricchiazzi says.
But the weekend vote puts the state party in line with what many have known for decades: there always have been gays and lesbians involved in Republican politics, both as organizers and as voters. The party’s vote for inclusion removes much of the hypocrisy that pretends gays don’t exist in big numbers in the Republican world.
Consider that George W. Bush got 25 percent of the gay and lesbian vote in 2000, according to exit polls compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research.
And even in 2004, when Karl Rove led the way in putting anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots of 11 states, Bush still got 23% of the gay vote. Four years later, when nominee John McCain came out against same-sex marriage, it was despite his own Senate chief-of-staff being a gay man.
Fast forward another four years to Mitt Romney, who also opposed marriage equality, without mentioning that he ran for Senate against Ted Kennedy saying, “I’ll be better than Ted for gay rights.”
Grindr conservatives: Times have changed. At last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference annual convention, any talk about gay marriage was “a non-starter,” reported Time Magazine. Much more interesting at CPAC were all the people who were using the app for Grindr, the gay hook-up and dating site.
Reporter Paul Detrick of Reason TV tracked Grindr usage at the convention, and he even managed to interview a few of the many Grindr Republicans on camera.
When Jeb Bush was asked about same-sex marriage at CPAC, he would only say, “I believe in traditional marriage.” He didn’t mention that he had just appointed an openly gay GOP operative as communications director for his upcoming campaign.
Bush has also called for “respect for the good people on all sides of the gay marriage issue.” The fact is, Bush and every other Republican knows what the future looks like – that future being as close as 2016.
The Washington Post reported last week on “The most surprising gay marriage poll we’ve seen in a long while.” That’s the poll from NBC News and Marist College that shows half the voters in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina say opposition to gay marriage is “unacceptable” in a candidate.
Still a wedge issue? All of this theoretically might mean more LGBT voters could go Republican, especially since gay rights groups are clearly willing to support GOP allies. Equality California, the state’s most powerful LGBT political organization, gave a 100% score on gay rights to Republican Assemblyman Brian Mainschein and State Senator Anthony Cannella in 2014.
EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur warns, however, that with “Other members of the Republican Party using antiquated, offensive terms like ‘gay lifestyle and agenda’ to describe their party’s embrace of LGBT people, clearly we must continue education about equality across California and beyond.”
Zbur adds, “We’ve also seen Republican candidates continue to use our community as a wedge issue in campaigns just last year, so our work at EQCA is far from over.”
Hank Plante is an Emmy and Peabody-winning reporter who has covered California politics for three decades. He is also the Palm Springs Bureau Chief of Calbuzz.
* Calbuzz is informed by Christopher Bowman that Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights was founded Aug. 2, 1977 in San Francisco and Log Cabin Republicans in Los Angeles was founded later that month. These groups and CRIR chapters in San Diego and Orange County merged in 1987 to form what became known as the Log Cabin Republicans of California. In 1992 the Log Cabin Federation was formed, followed by the National Log Cabin office in 1994.