Not all rainbows for gay Republicans at Western Conservative Summit
“It’s easier to come out that I’m a gay conservative to this group of people here than it is to go to a group of gay people and say, ‘I’m a gay Republican.’”
On Friday, the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Gay Republican Jeff Bjorlin said hearing the news that morning was a feeling he’d never forget. “Friends and family messaged me all day. It’s a huge blessing, a huge excitement to round that corner.” But the day didn’t come without discomforts.
Bjorlin is a member of the Log Cabin Republicans — an organization that advocates for LGBT rights within the Republican party. And Friday was the first day of the Western Conservative Summit — the summer’s biggest political get-together on the right. Bjorlin said the Log Cabin Republicans applied for a booth in the main lobby, among more than 100 other exhibitors. They paid the $250 fee, and the fee was received but then returned along with a “Thanks, but no thanks.”
Thank you Justice Kennedy! Reagan appointee & the most pro-gay SCOTUS Justice in the history of the United States. pic.twitter.com/8iZT8gLv6e
— LogCabinRepublicans (@LogCabinGOP) June 26, 2015
The Summit is put on by the Centennial Institute, a think-tank associated with Colorado Christian University. It’s led by former Colorado Senate president John Andrews, who told reporter Lynn Bartels about his message to the Log Cabin Republicans: “You and your members are very welcome to get tickets and attend, but we can’t officially have the organization as a partner, exhibitor, or advertiser,” she reported in The Denver Post.
In a blog post on the Centennial Institute’s website, Andrews clarified their position on who is and isn’t allowed to advertise at the Summit. “All individuals of whatever viewpoint [are welcome] to attend,” the statement reads, but only “like-minded” groups can exhibit or advertise.
And as for which groups are considered “like-minded,” the statement outlined what won’t be tolerated at the Summit. “For groups advocating a policy agenda incompatible with our core beliefs … whether it be higher taxes, climate extremism, disarmament, marijuana, abortion, gay marriage, abridgment of religious freedom, or the like — we respect their right to compete in the public square, but we decline to sell them space for such advocacy at our event.”
Bjorlin said the rejection “was a little hurtful, but it wasn’t completely surprising.”
In February, the Log Cabin Republicans were almost denied sponsorship at the Conservative Political Action Conference for the third year in a row. The outcry produced a “fruitful conversation” with conference organizers who ended up letting the Log Cabin Republicans participate in a panel discussion.
Like their experience at CPAC, the group ended up getting into the Western Conservative Summit anyway. The state GOP offered space for the group to set up a table with papers, buttons and clipboards just like all the other exhibitors.
“We would go to bat for any of our affiliates,” said state GOP Strategic Initiatives Deputy Director Jordan Gascon of the party’s decision.
Standing behind the Log Cabin Republicans’ table with leaflets in hand, Bjorlin said his experience so far at the Summit was mixed. “Certainly people have come up to me and said, ‘Hey, thanks for being here. We support you.’” But it’s not all rosy. “Especially on the evangelical right, I think they are very disappointed or upset about the [same-sex marriage] ruling.”
Certainly, many at the Summit expressed that sentiment.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, the first presidential nominee to speak at the Summit, was among them. He thinks the ruling redefined marriage. If it’s not about procreative sex for the sake of stable family units, it’s not marriage. “Now we are faced with a society that says marriage has nothing to do with children,” he said. “If the family goes, there’s nothing left.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council — a conservative Christian lobbying group — followed up. He, too, objected to the Supreme Court’s ruling on moral grounds, reiterating that marriage is an institution defined as the union between one man and one woman for the purpose of child-bearing. “The Supreme Court does not have the moral authority to change what it did not create,” he said.
— Kevin J. Jones (@kevinjjones) June 27, 2015
As for shifting cultural tides, Perkins said that he “rejects the notion that we must get on the right side of these causes.” Though same-sex marriage may be the law of the land now, he said that the fight to protect and preserve Christian family values is not over. “We will never, never give up.”
Perkins also penned an op-ed in USA Today saying the Christian right sees this ruling much like it saw Roe v. Wade in 1973 — as illegitimate and untenable. “We must now prepare for the collision course that the Supreme Court has set for America’s most cherished freedoms. The first step is for Congress and state legislators to pass measures that prevent the government from discriminating against anyone who believes in natural marriage.”
Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee echoed that sentiment, but chose a different historical ruling for comparison. “Conservatives can do same thing that Abraham Lincoln did about the Dred Scott decision of 1857,” he said. “[Lincoln] simply ignored the ruling and said, ‘That’s not correct.’”
Huckabee also called the decision “a blatant, disgusting example of judicial activism” and later warned his liberal friends — “all two of them” — that one day conservatives will regain majority on the bench and take a leaf out of this court’s book.
Bjorlin said he respects the rights of churches that want nothing to do with gay marriage. “The thing is, we’ve never been advocating to have churches marrying people they don’t want to marry. And, you know, it’s like they still need to have that liberty, freedom of choosing, deciding who marry […] If they don’t want to marry gay couples, it’s no skin off any of our backs.”
He stressed that his sexual orientation aside, he believes in small government, free market principles along with everyone else in the convention center. That’s why he’s a registered Republican.
But Bjorlin said he’s frustrated by what he sees as the party’s selective violation of its professed commitment to taking a limited role in governing citizens’ personal lives. “We don’t want government interfering with the 2nd amendment, our guns. We don’t want government interfering with religious freedom. But somehow we’ll have the government interfere on this small pocket because we don’t really like it or we don’t understand it. And we don’t want to take the time to understand it either.”
He said he runs into a similar problem in the gay community, where the concept of a gay Republican is perhaps more mystifying. “It’s easier to come out that I’m a gay conservative to this group of people here than it is to go to a group of gay people and say, ‘I’m a gay Republican.’”
Graphic composite by Nat Stein via Wikimedia.
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