Robert Spencer  /  AP file
Log Cabin leader Patrick Guerriero is the former  mayor of Melrose, Mass.
updated 2/26/2004 12:48:39 PM ET 2004-02-26T17:48:39

Seated on the white picket fence in the middle of the same-sex marriage debate is a group too liberal for the right wing of the GOP and too conservative for the rest of the gay rights movement — the Log Cabin Republicans.

In recent weeks, this grass-roots gay and lesbian organization and its photogenic national chairman, Patrick Guerriero, have entered the media spotlight as the drive toward an amendment banning gay marriage has accelerated.

Log Cabin was founded in 1978 as part of the effort to defeat California’s Proposition 6, a measure that sought to dismiss teachers who “advocated” homosexuality in or out of schools.  At the time, Log Cabin enlisted none other than Ronald Reagan in their successful campaign.  In a statement denouncing the measure, Reagan wrote, “Homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles.”

Since 1978, it has been an uphill battle for the GOP to see Log Cabin members as more than just party crashers.

The group organized on the national level by 1996 and was ready to make its first endorsement of a candidate for president.  It wasn’t much of a coming out party as that man, Bob Dole, returned the group's contribution.  He later apologized.  Two years later, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott compared homosexuality to alcoholism and kleptomania.

Bush took endorsement in 2000
Things were looking up in 2000 when candidate George W. Bush accepted Log Cabin’s endorsement.  But now, just months away from the next presidential election, gays are again the target of conservative ire.

Jeffrey Bissiri, chairman of the California chapter of Log Cabin, expressed concerns about the rapid escalation of the marriage debate.  He said that the rush of marriages in San Francisco is “feeding into the hands of gay rights opponents.”

“It’s a classic battle between incrementalism and confrontationalism,” he said.

Just five months ago California enacted a “comprehensive” domestic partnership law that Log Cabin felt was a sufficient step toward their goal, acceptance of civil unions.

For liberal gay activists in California and elsewhere, the law was neither “comprehensive” nor sufficient enough to satisfy the need for equality.  Some gays see Log Cabin Republicans as “sellouts” on the issue.

Courtesy: Karel Bouley
Radio talk show host Karel Bouley wonders why gay people would want to be Republicans.
Karel Bouley, an openly gay radio talk show host on San Francisco’s KGO radio, questions Log Cabin’s approach of moderate views on gay rights and their role in a party that “doesn’t want them.”

“It’s like a black man thinking he can get the Ku Klux Klan to like them by joining,” he said.

Others try to analyze the reasons why gays would join the GOP.  Eric Marcus is the author of "Making Gay History."  He suggested that most Log Cabin Republicans were raised in Republican families and held to those convictions in adulthood.

“Home is home, even if it is abusive.  It’s like being gay in the Catholic Church,” he said.

Log Cabin members have heard the criticism before.

Bissiri responded, “I am not going to surrender my right to the political process to some member of the far left or far right that thinks I should belong to one party or the other.”

In its mission statement, the group espouses a belief in fiscal responsibility and limited government, along with a need for “equal rights for all, including gay men and women.”

More conservative factions of the GOP are concerned about the place where equal rights blur into “special rights.”

Courtesy: Eric Marcus
Author Eric Marcus believes many Log Cabin members were raised in Republican families.
One of the most prominent conservative groups leading the crusade against same-sex marriage is the Family Research Council, a nonprofit group that promotes family values.  This group’s president, Tony Perkins, believes that the “middle ground” that Log Cabin presents, legally recognized partnerships free of the “M” word, are an unacceptable solution.

“Civil unions are an affront to the institution of marriage and the family,” he said.

Still, there are other Republicans willing to meet halfway on the issue.  One moderate group, Alliance for Marriage, calls for a ban on same-sex marriage but stops short of challenging domestic partnership rights.

“Jerry Falwell doesn’t represent our position,” said the group’s president, Matt Daniels.

Others, like California Rep. Elton Gallegly who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, question the extreme act of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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It has been Log Cabin’s strategy to nurture relationships with these moderates in order to maintain a place in the party.  The group sees no greater support for same-sex marriage among Democrats.  In California, for example, Sen. Barbara Boxer has said no to “marriage” and yes to civil unions.  Republican moderates claim there is no difference between her position and the president’s.

But a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage may lead to tough decisions for gay Republicans.

Log Cabin’s national political director, Mark Mead, has gone on record saying that the group could not endorse a GOP candidate who backs such an amendment.  It just so happens that a candidate has, and he happens to be the man running for the White House this year.

Log Cabin has yet to formally endorse a presidential candidate for 2004, but it is clear that the decision won’t be easy.  With 38 states already banning gay marriage, challenges in the states on the road to legalization, and the specter of the amendment before them, it may be time to get off that fence.

“This will be a difficult year,” Bissiri said.

Mead said no decisions have been made about the endorsement and won’t be for some time.

It remains to be seen how much impact that will have on the GOP.  Log Cabin delivers about $100,000 in contributions from its 50 chapters in each election cycle, a relatively small amount.  But in 2000 Bush won 25 percent of the gay vote, about triple the percentage of black votes he received.

The Republican National Committee has appreciated this boost.  A spokesman for the group said of Log Cabin, “We welcome groups who join us in participating in the political life of our nation towards that common goal.”

But Scott Stanzel, press secretary for the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign, hesitated while considering the possibility of Log Cabin’s endorsement.  He had no clear answer on whether the campaign would accept the endorsement if the got it.

“I can’t deal with hypotheticals,” he said.


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