The head of Log Cabin Republicans said he is hopeful that the newly elected chair of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, would maintain cordial relations with LGBT Republicans, even though Priebus supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
Priebus, 38, chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, defeated controversial RNC Chair Michael Steele and four other candidates in a hotly contested race for the RNC leadership post at an RNC meeting in suburban Maryland on Jan. 14.
In a Jan. 3 debate at the National Press Club in Washington, Priebus, Steele and the three other candidates for the RNC chair position each said they believe marriage should be restricted to a union between a man and a woman.
“I don’t believe that judges can rewrite the Constitution and redraft what marriage is,” Priebus said during the debate. “I think…there’s a sanctity of marriage…I believe my kids and believe children should grow up with one father and a mother if possible,” he said.
He then added, “I don’t believe anybody should be denied dignity in this discussion, everyone should be loved. But at the end of the day, I believe that marriage, through the sanctity of marriage, should be between one man and one woman.”
In an earlier interview broadcast on YouTube with Maggie Gallagher, president of the National Organization for Marriage, the leading group opposing same-sex marriage, Priebus said he supports the Republican Party platform position on marriage, which calls for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
He also noted in his interview with Gallagher, which took place shortly after he entered the race for RNC chair, that he was a strong advocate for the Wisconsin state constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions. Voters in the state approved that amendment in 2006.
“I was a part of that,” he said. “I was helpful to make sure that that happened…It’s an important issue because I believe marriage is a gift from God and the sanctity of marriage ought to be protected,” he told Gallagher.
“I believe the Defense of Marriage Act is important,” he continued in the interview. And it’s something that certainly as chairman of the Republican National Committee that we ought to be committed to.”
In marked contrast, the Democratic Party platform expresses opposition to both a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which it calls for repealing.
DOMA, which Congress passed in 1996, defines marriage under federal law as a union only between a man and a woman. The law prevents same-sex couples married in states that have legalized such unions from receiving any federal benefits or rights related to marriage.
The GOP platform also recognizes “the incompatibility of homosexuality with military service” while the Democratic platform called for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law barring gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.
The subject of gays in the military did not come up in the debate among RNC chair candidates or in Gallagher’s interview with Priebus. But in discussing the GOP platform, Priebus told Gallagher, “I have no beef with any part of that platform that’s set forth within the Republican National Committee.”
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, joined other GOP leaders in releasing a statement on the day Priebus was elected RNC chair calling for party unity and inclusion.
“As Chairman Priebus stated, ‘we must come together over common interests. We must unite,’” Cooper said in his statement.
“I look forward to continuing our successful partnership with the Republican National Committee, and urge Chairman Priebus to continue the Committee’s strong record of coalition-building, which was an important part of GOP success in 2010,” he said.
Cooper said Log Cabin did not take sides in the RNC chair race. He said he personally supported one of the candidates but declined to say which one.
GOProud, a national organization representing “gay conservatives and their allies,” called Priebus’ election as party chair “a good day for conservatives and for the Republican Party.”
Christopher Barron, chair of GOProud’s board, said the group worked hard for Steele’s defeat but did not say if it backed another candidate. GOProud was among a number of conservative groups that criticized Steele for making a statement last year saying the U.S. could not achieve its objectives in the war in Afghanistan.
“Michael Steel’s tenure as chairman can only fairly be characterized as an unmitigated disaster,” Barron said “Were it not for the hard work of outside groups, who were forced to step in to fill the void left by an ineffective RNC, success at the ballot box in November would not have happened.
Robert Kabel, the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Committee, had a far different view on Steele, saying the now ex-GOP chair did an overall good job.
Kabel said he backed Steele’s re-election bid, saying Steele was “highly supportive” of the D.C. Republican Party and of Kabel’s role as the nation’s only out gay leader of a state or local Republican Party committee.
Kabel, who is a member of the RNC, said he voted for former RNC official Maria Cino, another of the candidates competing for the chair post, when Steele dropped out of the race after trailing Priebus in the fourth round of voting.
Cooper noted that Steele had welcomed Log Cabin and gay Republicans in general into the RNC’s fold during his two-year tenure as RNC chair and hired at least one out gay staffer to work at the RNC’s Coalitions Department, which reached out to Republican constituency groups like College Republicans, Young Republicans, and Log Cabin.
Kabel, who like Cooper, declined to identify the gay staffer, said the staffer is among nearly a dozen RNC staff members that Priebus fired or who resigned during his first week in office.
Both said the firings and resignations were part of the normal personnel changes that take place whenever a new party chair takes office.
The Hill newspaper reported that Priebus dismissed most of the staff that had been hired by Steele to work on the 2012 Republican National Convention.
“They recognized the gay community, they were very open to Log Cabin and they were really delighted when Clarke Cooper was finally selected as the new Log Cabin director,” Kabel said of the RNC Coalitions Department under Steele’s tenure.
Cooper said he could not say for sure but he expected Priebus to keep the Coalitions Department in place, although he said the new party chair might rename it or change its place within the RNC structure.
A staff member with the RNC’s press office, who identified himself only as Michael, said he would seek to obtain a response to a Blade inquiry about Priebus’ plans for the Coalitions Department and its interaction with Log Cabin. The staffer did not get back by press time.
Priebus led in the balloting in a protracted election in which the 168-member RNC was unable to deliver the 85 votes needed to elect a chair until Priebus finally obtained 97 votes on the seventh round of voting.
In addition to Steele, the other candidates in the race were Cino, a former Bush administration official who had been friendly to Log Cabin; Ann Wagner of Missouri; and Saul Anuzis of Michigan.
In a related development, on the same day Priebus won his race for RNC chair, the RNC elected D.C. resident and longtime Republican activist Tony Parker as RNC treasurer, which is considered the second most important post at the RNC. Parker has held the position of Republican National Committeeman from D.C. His views on LGBT issues could not be immediately determined.
On Jan. 6, the D.C. Republican Committee voted unanimously to re-elect Kabel as chair for another two-year term.