February 25, 2010 at 4:15 pm EST | by Robert Turner
A kinder, gentler GOP?

It has certainly been quite a month for gay Republicans.

Earlier this month, there was a Senate hearing on repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a Clinton-era law that forbids gay and lesbian service members from serving openly in the armed forces. While most of the Republican senators on the committee oppose lifting the ban, in the days and weeks to follow, many GOP leaders have announced their support for lifting it.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said recently, “Twenty years ago the military were strong advocates of DADT. I think things have changed significantly since then.” Cheney continued, “When the [Joint] Chiefs come forward and say ‘we think we can do it,’ it strikes me that it’s time to reconsider the policy.”

In addition to the former vice president, Liz Cheney has said it is time for the policy banning gays in the military to end, as have several conservative journalists, including Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. Gen. David Petraeus stated this week that he supports the review of lifting the ban, as does retired Gen. Colin Powell.

Pressure for repeal is also building in the courts thanks to Log Cabin Republicans vs. The United States of America, a direct challenge to the law and the only contemporary legal challenge to succeed at the district court level.

Last week, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank hosted a policy forum on gays and conservative politics. Among the guests on the dais were Andrew Sullivan and Maggie Gallagher, of the National Organization for Marriage. Although there were plenty of fireworks on display, the question of whether there is a place in conservative politics for LGBT people was never fully answered.

The very next day, the Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation’s largest conservative conference, began three days of speeches, meetings and activism. With few exceptions, the conference was devoid of many of the social policy discussions often heard when thousands of conservatives gather in one place.

The overall theme of CPAC this year was freedom. Most of the panels and speeches were primarily about fiscal discipline, lower taxes and limited government.

Of course, there was some talk about the marriage issue. You had Phyllis Schlafly, of Eagle Forum and Rep. Mike Pence advocating for a federal marriage amendment. But they were the exception and not the norm.

The event took a very libertarian direction this year. Most assuredly, this is due to the rise of the “tea party” movement. Now, before the tea bagging jokes begin, it is important to note that according to recent polling, roughly 11 percent of Americans say they “have actively supported the tea party movement,” while another 24 percent of the public generally favors the tea party movement.

The CPAC straw poll told a similar libertarian tale. When asked which comes closest to your core beliefs and ideology, only 9 percent of participants selected “Most important goal is to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage.” And only 1 percent listed stopping gay marriage as one of their top two issues.

The most striking moment of the three-day event was when Ryan Sorba, of California Young Americans for Freedom, took to the podium in what was supposed to be a two-minute statement on youth activism. Instead, he condemned CPAC “for bringing GOPride [sic] to this event.” What happened next was even more shocking. As Sorba continued his tirade against the evils of homosexuality, the audience, which was at maximum capacity awaiting Ron Paul, began to boo him. The more he talked, the louder and more hostile the audience became. There’s an old political axiom about speech making: know your audience.

As been reported on these pages, GOProud was one of many co-sponsors of the conference. Ironically, they had a booth that was two tables down from the National Organization for Marriage booth. CNN got a shot of the two groups shaking hands and suggesting a beer summit. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. Just the very next day, angry because NOM couldn’t deliver a message personally, GOProud asked the question, “Who’s the pansy at CPAC?” referring to NOM’s issuing of a news release that day threatening to “Dede Scozzafava” any pro-marriage equality candidates.

Has the conservative movement openly welcomed gays and lesbians into their tent? Definitely not. But there is now dialogue and discussion. And as long as dialogue and discussion continue, we gay conservatives — homocons — will continue to try to change hearts and minds, one person at a time.

Robert Turner is president of The Turner Group, a D.C.-based government relations firm. Reach him at robert@turner-dc.com.

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