Saturday, on the eve of the California Republican Party’s historic vote formally welcoming gay Republicans into the fold, a dapper 75-year-old named Fred Schein described his challenges.
“It’s very lonely being a gay Republican,” said Schein, who is president of San Francisco’s Log Cabin Republican chapter. “It really is. We take a lot of abuse.”
Given where he lives, I’m pretty sure he was talking about abuse from liberal Democratic types, but he might as well have been talking about some of his fellow Republicans, who have long tried to keep their gay brethren at arm’s length.
Imagine working your heart out for your party -- helping, for instance, wipe away the legislative super-majority that California Democrats briefly enjoyed, then being told you don’t really belong in the party in any official way because your group, by definition, promotes a “lifestyle” incompatible with conservative values.
“I’ve seen some pretty ugly stuff,” said Schein. “You can’t be a gay Republican for 30 years and not see it."
Sunday, the California Republican Party did the right thing, voting by a lopsided margin of 861 to 293 to allow Log Cabin Republicans status as one of the party’s official volunteer organizations. (It also resoundingly voted down a proposal to change the already pejorative phrase “illegal immigrants” to the even worse “illegal aliens,” but that is a subject for another day.)
The move to sanction the gay conservative group highlights the contradiction between progress in the real world and the outdated attitudes promulgated in the state party’s official documents and embraced by its ultra-conservative fringe.
In the real world, same-sex marriage is legal in California and may soon be legal in all 50 states, depending on how the Supreme Court votes in June. In the state GOP platform, however, marriage is defined as between one man and one woman, and homosexuality is described as an “alternative lifestyle” that is not “acceptable.”
I’m no doctor, but I’d say this party is in dire need of platform reassignment surgery.
I sensed from conversations I had with delegates that it’s become uncomfortable to openly oppose gay civil rights, so they had to come up with technical objections to the Log Cabin group. Some latched on to the idea that the issue constituted a violation of the state party’s rules and bylaws, which do not allow groups that promote “lifestyle orientations.”
This was the argument advanced Sunday on the convention floor by Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield, who asked California Republican Party Chairman Jim Brulte to scrap the vote, citing the bylaws. (Grove had just come from a state GOP prayer breakfast where she described herself as a “gun-carrying, tongue-talking, spirit-filled believer” and had compared California and Sacramento to the wicked places God punishes in the Book of Jeremiah. But I digress.)
Brulte was pleasant but firm: “I would ask you on what page of the bylaws of the Log Cabin Republicans do they advocate a certain lifestyle preference or orientation?”
Some complained that the matter was “sneaked in” without discussion.
But Schein told me he spent weeks gathering documentation to prove that Log Cabin Republicans meet the party’s stringent requirements to become an official volunteer organization. He had compiled a 140-page application for the committee that voted unanimously to bring the matter to the convention floor on Sunday. It doesn’t seem sneaky when everyone gets the chance to cast a vote.
Others had to reach even further. Republican activist Karen England said Log Cabin Republicans had proved they didn’t support the GOP because in 2004, the national board of the organization refused to endorse President Bush for reelection after he promoted a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Whatever.
The point is, on Sunday, the California Republican Party made a historic move to embrace a group it has traditionally alienated and denigrated. Good for them.
Just before the vote, I bumped into the Republican Party benefactor Charles Munger Jr. outside the convention hall. He seemed a little exasperated by arguments against the Log Cabin Republicans, and actually made the one of the best arguments for inclusivity that I heard all weekend.
“The Log Cabin Republicans are not trying to make Republicans gay,” Munger said. “They are trying to make gays Republican.”