As Anti-Gay Groups Fume, GOProud Provokes Questions of Conservative Credentials
Americans who favor limited governmental interference in their lives, believe strongly in the importance of family, support a strong national defense--sometimes by serving in uniform--and view fiscal responsibility as vital to the long-term health of the nation are generally known as conservatives.
Unless, of course, they are gay--or worse, gay and married, or gay and serving in the military, or (worst of all) gay and self-identified as a conservative. That's the message implicit in the stance of a number of religiously-based anti-gay organizations that have chosen not to attend this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the gathering of ideologically rightward individuals and organizations that has taken place annually for thirty-eight years.
The reason for the split among conservatives? GOProud, a group dedicated to advancing issues important to the right that happens to be made up of gay conservatives.
The idea of a gay conservative is still often seen as a contradiction in terms, but in the last year the notion has lost some of its novelty. It was a conservative gay group--the Log Cabin Republicans--that won a judgment against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last year, generating headlines and giving fresh credence to the idea of gay conservatives as a force to recognize and take seriously.
But not all is well among conservatives when it comes to the issue of GLBT Americans. For some groups on the extreme end of the ideological spectrum--especially the religiously motivated--gays are nothing more than "sinners" who "choose" to be romantically and sexually attracted to members of their own gender. Gays are excoriated as "promiscuous" by anti-gay conservatives, but the idea of domestically settled, married gays is even more upsetting: it was only a little more than two years ago that record-setting sums of money poured into California in support of Proposition 8, an effort--barely successful and now under challenge in the courts--to strip gay and lesbian families of their then-existing right to wed. Since then, at least one major player in the Proposition 8 battle, the National Organization for Marriage, has spent more millions on a nationwide campaign to prevent--or roll back--marriage equality for gay and lesbian families.
Other conservatives have little difficulty accepting gays into the ranks. Conservatives of this stripe and gays angry at how they have been targeted by intrusive anti-gay laws have a common cause in wishing for a smaller, less invasive government. Moreover, such conservatives tend to emphasize fiscal conservatism, looking for smaller government to be more frugal as well as less liable to control the details of their personal lives.
The drama playing out as the Feb. 10 start of this year's CPAC approaches is a stark study in the differences of the right's mainstream and its extreme fringe. The mainstream celebrate the midterm election victories of Tea Party candidates as a rebuke to big government and its social programs, and a victory for freedom, independence, and personal responsibility. Tea Party candidates who prevailed in the last election tended to be those who avoided social issues and kept their focus on jobs, federal spending, and other economic issues.
But for the hard-core anti-gay extreme, the only "true" conservatives are heterosexuals who expect everyone else to "choose" to be heterosexual, too--or at least, to pretend that they are straight. They view openly gay conservatives with skepticism or even suspicion, sometimes accusing gays of attempting to "infiltrate" the political right out of a strategy to undermine conservatism, rather than because many gays might hold personal views that align with conservative principles such as enhanced liberty, reduced government, and the means to promote and protect their own interests--and those of their families.
The fact that the American Conservative Union allowed GOProud to co-sponsor last year's CPAC, and is allowing the group to do so again this year, therefore rubs many anti-gay groups the wrong way. The schism between religiously motivated conservatives and fiscal conservatives is especially pronounced given the list of those groups that have chosen to boycott the 2011 edition of CPAC. Among them, reported the New York Times on Jan. 27, are organizations such as Concerned Women for America, Liberty University, and the Family Research Council.
Nominally secualar groups such as the Heritage Foundation are also skipping this year's CPAC, the New York Times noted, but the ACU has held firm and declined to rescind GOProud's co-sponsor status. Indeed, it may not matter much if the anti-gay crowd stay home: this year's CPAC is expected to be the biggest one yet.
GOProud itself barely seems to promote anything overtly gay. The reason that anti-gay groups give for denouncing GOProud is that the organization says that the issue of marriage should be left to the states to decide, and indeed states' rights are a rallying point for many on the ideological right.
But GOProud contends that specific positions on issues are secondary to the fact that this is a organization that is out, proud, and conservative. In short, they suggest, the anti-gay elements of the political right simply do not like sexual minorities: said GOProud head Jimmy LaSalvia, "The reason the boycotters applied a litmus test to us is because we were born gay."
That interpretation can hardly be faulted given statements like the one tossed off by Liberty University's Mathew Staver, who told the New York Times that "GOProud is working to undermine one of our core values." Staver implied that gays are welcome to lend their weight to the conservative movement, but when it comes to full membership, they should content themselves with a seat in the back of the bus: "they shouldn't be allowed to be co-sponsors," Staver said.
Next: Family Matters