A Cause Worth Fighting For
It doesn't seem like a very promising cause. The Log Cabin Republicans, a
group of gay Republicans, has been waging a battle to make homosexuality more
accepted within the Republican Party. Yet some very important sectors of the
Republican Party are openly hostile to gays and lesbians. From Pat Buchanan's
fiery rhetoric to the anti-gay stance of the Christian Coalition, at first
glance it appears that the Republican Party will not open up for homosexuals
any time soon.
Thus, it was curious to hear the considerable optimism in Paul Dionne's voice. Dionne is the president of the Washington D.C. chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. "It's easy to forget that holding back gay initiatives is only part of the agenda of the Christian Right," he said. "Many gay Republicans actually have a lot in common on other issues, like taxes, education and school-prayer."
He claimed that sentiment within the Christian Right is not all that uniform. He remarked that he "was finding more and more elements who don't know how they feel about gays and lesbians. Over time, some of their friends and relatives come out and it really challenges their notion of what it means to be to be gay. Many seem to realize that gays are ordinary human beings."
The Log Cabin Republicans have long been trying to achieve just such recognition. It grew out of two groups, Concerned Americans for Individual Rights and the Log Cabin Club, established in California in 1977 to fight the anti-gay Brigg's initiative. They later merged, and since the 1992 Republican Convention, the Log Cabin Republicans has grown to include 11,000 members and fifty chapters nationwide.
In addition to their organizational success, they seem to be making some progress with attitudes among Republicans. Dionne stated that among the Republican rank-and-file "there is not as much hostility as you might think. I've never experienced direct, open mean-spiritedness at most of the Republican events I've attended. Most people seem very accepting."
In fact, the animus comes more from the opposite camp. In his most surprising remark, Dionne stated, "You know, I spend more time explaining to gay people why I'm Republican than I do explaining to Republicans why I'm gay." Apparently there are many gays and lesbians who are not ready to accept that there are conservatives in their ranks. Dionne humorously noted that a co-worker could accept his sexual orientation but not his political one.
Yet, such aversion seems easy to understand. Doesn't sexual orientation comprise an enormous part of one's identity? And if it does, why would anyone join an organization that has some prominent members who are hostile to one's sexual orientation? Dionne responded that such a view is "narrow." Homosexuality is only part of his identity. "Being politically conservative is also a large part of my identity, and on most issues, I fit well with the Republicans." He then waxed philosophical: "You know, most people don't fit into any social group 100 percent. For example, many people disagree on one or two issues with the church they belong to. To expect any person to agree with everything about a political party seems just as unreasonable. Besides, the only way to defeat homophobia is for gays and lesbians to move into the Republican Party."
That is probably true, but it still seems like a daunting challenge. Recent events are discouraging. The Republicans have been opposed to one of the recent initiatives of the homosexual community, same-sex marriage. In 1996 the Republican-controlled Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which allowed states the option of whether to recognize same-sex marriage as legitimate. Many states have banned such unions, and others, including Iowa, are considering it.
Dionne argues that this is one of the primary reasons that homosexuals need to move into the Republican Party. "Gays and lesbians can't always rely on Democrats because 118 Democrats voted for DOMA and President Clinton signed the bill into law. With gays and lesbians playing a larger role within both parties, it will be easier to prevent such measures in the future."
He went on to suggest that by recognizing the practice of same-sex marriage, we might promote practices among the gay community which most conservatives would approve of. "It's important that gays have relationships. We need to encourage relationships among the gay community and discourage promiscuity. Same-sex marriage might be one avenue to achieving that." But conservative sentiment is probably a long way from agreeing with Dionne.
Other signs also look grim. Pat Buchanan continued to attack homosexuality in his 1996 presidential primary campaign. The Log Cabin Republicans made a contribution to Bob Dole's 1996 campaign, but it was returned. Not the actions of a party ready to accept gays and lesbians in their ranks.
But then Dionne reminded me that a few months later Dole publicly apologized to the Log Cabin Republicans, saying that it was wrong for his campaign to return the contribution.
Perhaps their cause is more promising than it first appears.