California Republicans will decide Sunday whether to officially recognize a gay GOP group, setting the stage for a divisive family-values fight at their biannual convention here.
A party committee voted 11 to 0 Saturday to advance the application for charter status by the Log Cabin Republicans' California chapter to a floor vote of delegates.
Charles Moran, chairman of the Log Cabin group, cited work that his members did in several competitive election contests last year to argue that the group deserves a party charter.
"We've earned our street cred," Moran said. "Now it's the point where we're seeking that official recognition from the party."
Moran said the group worked for two years to make sure its application aligned with party rules. He described Saturday's unanimous vote as "phenomenal."
"A lot of us knew we were Republican before we knew we were gay, so this is home for us," he said. If the group is successful Sunday, "the left will not be able to say to us anymore, 'The Republican Party doesn't want you.'"
"If we get this charter tomorrow, the Republicans have deputized us to go out to college campuses and urban communities … and say, 'No, we want you in the party,'" he said.
Outside the committee meeting, scores of delegates and activists gathered, many angered that the meeting was kept quiet, that they were blocked from the hearing because the room was at capacity, and that no debate occurred.
"The main opposition is the way the party chose to do this. It's very Obama-like, very much like an executive order," said Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Resource Institute, a Sacramento-based group that backs conservative social causes.
"They snuck this meeting in, and they are sneaking it on the floor.... They have not let the public or delegates know this is going on," she said.
The Log Cabin group is 38 years old and has unsuccessfully sought official recognition several times before, though not in the last decade.
The group considered applying in 2014 but did not want to risk controversy that could have harmed the party's electoral prospects.
Christopher-Michael Saraceni, a delegate, said he supported a Log Cabin charter.
"They belong here just as much as anybody else," said Saraceni, 42, who was wearing a red "Rand Paul 2016" T-shirt.
Delegate Celeste Greig said she plans to vote against the charter because she believes the group's goals are at odds with the national and state GOP platforms.
"It's in conflict with what they stand for, what they promote," said Greig, former president of the California Republican Assembly, a socially conservative chartered organization. "Being, myself, one that believes in traditional marriage between a man and a woman, I will personally vote against the charter."
The party's official platform says homosexuality is unacceptable.
"We believe public policy and education should not be exploited to present or teach homosexuality as an acceptable 'alternative' lifestyle. We oppose same-sex partner benefits, child custody, and adoption," the platform says.
Some at the conference noted that the party's bylaws forbid the chartering of GOP groups that are based on "life-style preferences." But the Log Cabin move comes amid a changing political landscape.
Last year, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari marched in a San Diego gay-pride parade, the first Republican statewide candidate to do so. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate, supports same-sex marriage. The Log Cabin Luau, at which attendees don rainbow-colored leis and sip Mai Tais, is among the best-attended parties at state GOP conventions.
The Log Cabin Republicans' California chapter submitted a 141-page application arguing that the group met the criteria to be a chartered organization of the party — 10 chapters in 10 counties, each with at least 10 members who are registered Republicans, and at least 200 members statewide.
The state party has six officially recognized charter groups, including the California Federation of Republican Women and California College Republicans.
Aaron Park, the northern regional vice president of the California Republican Assembly, said most of that group's members were opposed to recognizing the Log Cabin Republicans, but he was torn.
"I've seen their volunteer service to many Republican candidates.... They've done great work for the party as a whole," Park said. But "I almost never see Log Cabin people show up for social conservatives.... That stuff still rattles around in my mind.
"It's going to be a game-time decision for me," he said.