The biggest surprise from the California Republican convention Sunday was not the party's decision to formally recognize the Log Cabin Republicans; it was that it hadn't done so already.
The group of gay and lesbian Republicans has been around for nearly 40 years. Its members are prolific political fundraisers, and its Log Cabin Luaus, at which attendees wear rainbow-colored leis and drink mai tais, are among the best-attended parties at the state GOP conventions. They are part of the Republican establishment. They just hadn't been officially recognized as such.
And that's the problem. This is California, where more than 60% of residents favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry, and where support for same-sex marriage has doubled among Republicans to 44% since 2008. Both the state Senate and Assembly have selected gay and lesbian leaders. And voters in San Diego came close in November to electing the state's first openly gay Republican congressman. (Carl DeMaio got 48.4% of the vote and lost to incumbent and Democrat Scott Peters in the 52nd Congressional District.)
Conservative stances on LGBT rights and gay marriage don't resonate with most Californians, especially younger and moderate voters. That's one reason — although certainly not the only reason — the GOP has fared so poorly here in recent years. Only 28% of the state's voters are registered Republicans, compared with 43% registered Democrats. Just 17% of the voters who registered last year signed up as Republicans. And Californians have not elected a member of the GOP to statewide office since 2006.
It's true that the vote to recognize the Log Cabin Republicans as an official party volunteer organization is largely symbolic, since the group has operated for decades without a formal sanction. But symbolism matters in politics, and California Republicans have set an important example for the GOP nationwide. The next logical step if the state GOP really wants to send a message of inclusion is to change its platform, which says homosexuality is unacceptable and opposes same-sex partner benefits, child custody and adoption. This platform not only contradicts state law and court rulings, but it's completely out of step with the growing acceptance and normalcy of LGBT families living in California.
It's long past time for the California GOP to catch up with public sentiment. If it can, California might once again become a two-party state.