NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Amid growing support for LGBT rights and following a string of court victories on marriage equality, high-profile Republican speakers avoided those subjects at the first day of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.
Although many of the speakers have previously articulated their opposition to same-sex marriage — with some going as far as supporting a Federal Marriage Amendment — none took the opportunity while speaking before an estimated 8,500 conservatives in attendance to attack gay rights or made statements against the many recent judicial rulings in favor of marriage equality.
Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) most closely approached LGBT issues when he defended his earlier statement supporting Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” for controversial comments equating homosexuality to sinful behavior.
“But the reality is this: I stood up for their right to speak up and articulate their beliefs because I’m tired of the left,” Jindal said. “I’m tired of the left that claims they’re tolerant, claims they’re for diversity — and they are — they are tolerant and they are for diversity except for when you dare to disagree with them.”
Jindal made the reference to “Duck Dynasty” after criticizing the Obama administration for supposedly impinging on the religious liberties of Americans.
Another veiled reference to LGBT issues came up when Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) praised the restaurant chain Chick-fil-A — despite the company’s history of anti-gay donations and controversial comments in opposition to same-sex marriage by owner Dan Cathy.
You would have to look off stage at CPAC to find anti-LGBT sentiments. According to Right Wing Watch, the ultra-conservative Catholic group Tradition, Family, and Property distributed fliers at the event depicting the gay conservative group GOProud as a rainbow-colored beaver, explaining “Why GOProud Does Not Belong at CPAC.”
“Why is GOProud a welcomed and official guest at CPAC, when it advocates the legalization of same-sex ‘marriage,’ thus undermining the votes and dreams of millions of God-fearing Americans?” the flier reportedly says.
Ross Hemminger, co-director of GOProud who helped the group regain its guest status at CPAC after two years of being banned, responded to the flier succinctly.
“I think it’s hilarious,” Hemminger said. “We will proudly be the rainbow beavers.”
Even though no one on stage at CPAC took the opportunity to oppose LGBT rights, no one speaking on stage said anything in favor of them either.
That absence was most acute during a panel titled “Reaching Out: The Rest of the Story,” which looked at the ways the conservative movement can expand into minority groups.
On the panel, moderated by Revolvis Consulting partner Jason Roe, was Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Virginia Ed Gillespie; Robert Woodson, president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise and Elroy Sailor, CEO of J.C. Watts Companies.
Although the panel talked at length about the Republican Party entering the black and Latino communities to win over those heavily Democratic constituents, not once did any mention of LGBT outreach come up, nor was the word “gay” even uttered.
Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, attended CPAC as a guest and criticized the lack of LGBT outreach on the panel in an interview with the Blade.
“The silence is deafening there, as least as far as I’m concerned,” Angelo said. “This is a constituency that the conservative movement needs to reach out to and formally acknowledging that in some capacity is something I think it needs to do.”
In the wake of GOProud’s readmission as a guest to CPAC, Angelo penned an op-ed piece for The Daily Caller saying Log Cabin had sought “meaningful” participation at CPAC, such as a seat on the outreach panel, but was “rebuffed.” The American Conservation Union, which hosts CPAC, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“Our ask was that we have a voice at the conference — that’s it — whether that was introducing speakers, introducing panelists, or being part of a panel,” Angelo said. “From our perspective, that was a simply non-controversial proposal that would have shown the country that gay conservatives are a meaningful part of this movement, in a vehicle that wasn’t all about ‘gay policy issues.’”
While remaining silent on LGBT issues, a number of prominent Republicans who spoke on stage at CPAC — many of whom are seen as Republican presidential contenders — addressed other relevant issues of the day, often attacking President Obama.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) talked about the importance of the “three-legged stool” of the conservative movement — social issues, fiscal issues and national security issues — that Republicans say led to Ronald Reagan’s wide victories during presidential elections in the 1980s.
“When we say that we’re pro-life, and that we’re proudly pro-life, that doesn’t mean that we’re pro-life just when that human being is in the womb,” Christie said. “It means we have to be in favor of an educational system that’s accountable, so that child, as they grow, can have a world-class education. It means that we have to be in favor of a society that creates opportunity and jobs for them — not one that has the government control what they think is good or fair in our society.”
Amid concern over Russia’s military incursion into Ukraine, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) derided the Obama administration for what he said was allowing the growth of totalitarian regimes in North Korea, Iran, China and Russia.
“All the problems of the world, all the conflicts of the world are being created by totalitarian regimes who are more interested in forcing people to do what they want them to do than truly achieving peace and prosperity and respect for the rights of others,” Rubio said.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another rising Republican star, enumerated several policy items he wanted to achieve, including repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank financial reform, abolition of the IRS and the establishment of the flat-tax.
Following his speech, Cruz took a shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom many see as the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, when asked about her candidacy.
“I’m less concerned about Hillary Clinton than I am about the direction this is country is going,” Cruz said. “We will have had eight years of a failed economic agenda that is resulting in a lack of leadership across the world. It is allowing Russia and China and Iran to expand their spheres of influence and make the world a much more dangerous place, and at home people are hurting. We’ve got the lowest labor force participation since 1978. Let me tell you, we can’t afford eight more years of this: Hillary Clinton would continue the failed Obama economic agenda.”
It should be noted Cruz is an opponent of marriage equality and has introduced in the Senate the State Defense Marriage Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions in states where they’re illegal.