It was an interesting scene over at the Hilton Anatole today. Downstairs in the massive Atrium, where I found myself lost at least once, a conservative D.C.-based think tank called the Heritage Foundation was hosting a convention featuring tables sponsored by groups like the “Alliance for School Choice” and “Online for Life.”
Meanwhile, upstairs on the mezzanine in smaller conference rooms, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans was quietly holding its National Convention. And when Dallas GOP Congressman Pete Sessions creepily appeared on the projector to deliver a recorded welcome message during Log Cabin’s lunch program, I couldn’t help but wonder if I might be in the wrong room.
After all, though, these two groups would probably agree on a lot of issues — limited government, strong national defense, etc. They just happen to disagree on one rather big one — the gays — and ultimately I guess that’s what Log Cabin is all about.
“There are a lot of Republican legislators who believe like we do,” GOP Maryland Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, who’s straight, told Log Cabin during the lunch program. “We just have to convince them it’s OK. They’re scared.”
Kittleman, introduced at the lunch by Evan Wolfson of Freedom to Marry, was the lone Republican member of the Maryland Senate who voted in favor of an unsuccessful marriage equality bill during this year’s session. Kittleman’s position on the issue prompted him to voluntarily step down as minority leader —and led some to question whether he was gay or had a gay family member.
“I said, ‘Well, why can’t it just be that he’s for civil liberties for everyone?'” Kittleman recalled. “For someone to say you can’t be a real Republican if you support gay rights, that’s just a bunch of bull.”
In fact, Kittleman said, the Republican Party has no choice but to change its stance on LGBT issues if it wants to survive.
“We’re dying,” he said. “We’re going to lose every Republican young person in our state if we don’t get on board.”
Kittleman choked back tears as he recalled his response to a reporter who asked why he voted for marriage equality considering the potential political consequences. “What I told them was that 20 years from now, when my grandchildren want to ask me what I did to support civil rights, that was more important to me than the next election.”
Kittleman followed the first openly gay man to run for lieutenant governor, Richard Tisei of Massachusetts, who was introduced by Chuck Wolfe of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. Tisei, a former state senator who lost his bid for lieutenant governor in November, noted that three of the four Massachusetts Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize same-sex marriage were appointed by Republican governors.
“In the United States, we’re never going to have true equality until we have people on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up and fight for fairness,” he said.
But Tisei added that the mainstream GOP’s positions on social issues have been costly for the party in his home state, which is now one of the most heavily Democratic in the nation.
“It’s really hurt the Republican brand in places like Massachusetts,” Tisei said. “As a party, if we’re going to be successful in the future, we need to be inclusive.”
Also speaking at the lunch was Fred Karger, the nation’s first openly gay presidential candidate, who’ll be featured in next Friday’s issue of the Voice.
Karger announced that he has qualified for the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina on Thursday, and his appearance drove home a major theme of the lunch.
“We need more of our people running for office — everything from school board all the way up to the national level,” said Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper.
For more on the Log Cabin convention, which runs through Sunday, go here.