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Log Cabin Republicans Vote to Support McCain

At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, gay Republicans were buoyant, holding several major events for the first time ever at a GOP convention.

Four years later, their mood at the convention in New York was decidedly downbeat, amid a flurry of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives and an attempt by Congressional Republicans to outlaw gay marriage.

This year, as perhaps 150 gay Republicans and supporters met amid the marble columns and crystal chandeliers of St. Paul’s University Club, the mood was far more upbeat.

For the first time in recent elections, the Log Cabin Board endorsed the GOP nominee during the convention, rather than afterward — a sharp break from 2004, when it issued a nonendorsement to President Bush.

Even more strikingly, a senior aide to presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) — national political director Mike DuHaime — came to accept the endorsement in person, the first time that has happened.

“This is very helpful to us,” DuHaime said in an interview after the event. “It’s going to be close, and every single vote will count.” He dismissed any backlash stemming from the endorsement, or the campaign’s welcoming of it, among social conservatives who are unfriendly to gay rights.

Jimmy LaSalvia, Log Cabin’s director of programs and policy, said, “It’s very apparent that John McCain is not George Bush. The party is entering a new phase.”

The 2008 convention is full of firsts for the group.

“The Republican National Committee gave us space for events, a hotel room block, credentials for members — all unprecedented for Log Cabin,” the group’s president, Patrick Sammon, said in an interview. “We have a booth in the exhibition hall where delegates can go throughout the week. It’s a very significant increase in presence for us.”

On Tuesday, the group met for its “Big Tent” luncheon at the University Club, one of three major events that Log Cabin is holding here this week. Log Cabin officials say there are at least two dozen gay delegates here, though exact numbers are elusive because party officials don’t track the sexual orientation of the delegates.

Attendees at the lunch heard comments from DuHaime; anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, who said that freedom of sexual orientation fits into his notion of “leave us alone” Republicanism; and former Rep. Jim Kolbe (Ariz.), who was the only openly gay Republican in Congress when he was serving.

Two other Republican moderates — Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) — had logistical difficulties that kept them from attending.

Kolbe gave a heartfelt testimonial for McCain, his fellow Arizonan and someone who had stumped for him from early in his career. Kolbe told the audience that McCain was the first politician he confided in about his sexuality, shortly before he knew he was going to be “outed” as gay in a magazine article.

“I drew him aside after leaving a breakfast of the Arizona delegation,” Kolbe told the audience. “I said that some personal information was about to come out that I need you to know about. He put up his hands and said, ‘Jim, it doesn’t make any difference’ — obviously, he already knew.

“He said, ‘You’re a great legislator today, and you will be one tomorrow. You’re a friend today, and you will be tomorrow.’ That really touched me and gave me encouragement to talk to other Members of Congress about it.”

Log Cabin leaders on Tuesday also expressed support of McCain, who was approved by the group’s board in a 12-2 vote.

Many singled out his forceful opposition to the Congressional effort to block gay marriage via a constitutional amendment in 2004.

“He didn’t just vote against it, he made a passionate speech against it, saying it was antithetical to everything the Republican Party was founded on,” said Chris Barron, a political consultant and former Log Cabin official.

Abner Mason of Palm Springs, Calif., a former Log Cabin national president, praised McCain’s willingness to go against party orthodoxy. “He’s demonstrated that he can build bridges,” Mason said. “You can’t ask for more than that in a president.”

In an apparent attempt to blunt Log Cabin’s endorsement, the Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday released a report in which the gay advocacy group asserted the “likelihood that a McCain presidency would be similar to that of President George W. Bush.”

“Similar to Bush, Sen. John McCain opposes equal benefits for same-sex couples; opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination against GLBT Americans in the workplace; opposes expanding the hate crimes act to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and supports the military’s discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy,” HRC said in a statement.

Officials told Roll Call on Tuesday that Log Cabin and HRC had initially discussed collaborating on events in St. Paul, but that the two groups decided early on to go their own ways. In 2000, the groups threw a joint reception at the convention.

The Log Cabin Board’s less than unanimous vote indicated what had been rumored for months — that support for McCain was not unqualified among gay Republicans.

“The negative has to do with how he’s talked since he won the nomination. He’s sounded like he’s running in South Carolina in 2000, catering to social conservatives,” said one gay Republican who requested anonymity.

“People were concerned about the way McCain talked about gay adoption. There was an interview where the campaign clarified its stance, but then he was asked again and did not answer effectively,” the Republican said. “Also, his campaign e-mailed his support for the California Marriage Amendment [which would block gay marriage]. He also ruled out picking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for vice president because of his pro-gay rights stance.”

At least one luncheon attendee, former local chapter president and former national board member Eva Young of Minneapolis, expressed her concerns with McCain openly, including problems with the Senator’s opposition to overturning the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy on service by gays and lesbians.

Log Cabin officials acknowledged differences with some of McCain’s policies.

“Sen. McCain showed courage by bucking his own party leadership and the president” on the federal marriage amendment, Sammon said in a statement, but he added that “we have honest disagreements with Sen. McCain on a number of gay rights issues. Log Cabin will continue our conversation with him and other Republican leaders about issues affecting gay and lesbian Americans.”

In an interview at the luncheon, Kolbe said he is hopeful about the issue positions of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, even though she has been billed as a staunch social conservative. As Alaska’s governor, she vetoed one piece of anti-gay legislation, saying it was unconstitutional.

“Younger Republicans just don’t care about these issues,” Barron said. “They’re not motivated by them — they’ve known gay people growing up. Part of the Log Cabin Republicans’ acceptance within the GOP is an organic thing. It will happen over time.”