People attending a wonky conference for Republican insiders Monday afternoon in Tampa, Fla., saw something they had not seen in previous years. On the information table at the hotel ballroom, next to a publication released by an organization that opposes gay rights, sat a book urging Republicans to support same-sex marriage.
For Clarke Cooper, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a group leading the fight for gay rights within the Republican Party, the mere presence of this volume counted as proof that the GOP is beginning to welcome gays into its fold. "Seeing folks pick up both publications would certainly qualify as 'big tent,'" Cooper wrote to The Huffington Post in an email.
Until now, gay people have played a marginal role, at best, in shaping the Republican Party national agenda. But some gay Republicans said that's changing, and they've pointed to the recent going-ons in Tampa as evidence. This week, Republicans from around the country gathered in the city where next week's convention will take place to draft a national platform for the party. Political platforms are mostly symbolic statements, and politicians often ignore them. Still, for a segment of the Republican Party whose voice hasn't often resonated in the GOP upper ranks or in the media, even a small, symbolic victory is worth noting.
This year, for the first time, members of the Log Cabin Republicans participated in drafting the party platform. In previous years, they had sat in on such sessions. But this time, they proposed changes and distributed materials to other delegates. According to Cooper, their participation helped foster "a very transparent debate" about same-sex marriage and the Defense of Mariage Act -- something that has "never happened before."
Yet the platform negotiations didn't turn out as well as some Log Cabin Republicans might have hoped. While several delegates expressed support for the group's ideas, the nays far outnumbered the yays. In the latest GOP platform draft, the party has rejected all of the group's major proposals. Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, one of the most prominent groups that opposes gay rights, took credit for the platform's language on marriage and called the draft "one of the most conservative platforms the GOP has ever produced."
On the plus side, according to a press release from the Log Cabin Republicans, "There is no longer any reference" in the platform "to the supposed incompatibility of homosexuality with military service." Members of the group also noted that they "appreciate the inclusion of language recognizing that all Americans have the right to be treated with dignity and respect."
A final draft of the platform is expected next week. David Lampo, the author of "A Fundamental Freedom," the gay-rights book that found a place on the information table, said, "I'm disappointed, but I'm not surprised." He described the "respectful hearing" that the group received as "heartening."
Outside of the ranks of the Log Cabin Republicans, however, few gay-rights supporters found much that was heartening about the GOP platform. In a statement, Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights group, called the proposed platform "blatantly out-of-step with not only the majority of our nation, but even with the rank-and-file of the Republican Party itself."
“The party is poised to send a devastating message to LGBT youth -– that they and the families they aspire to one day build are not worthy of the same protections as everyone else,” Griffin said.
A New York Times editorial called the draft "more agressive in its opposition to women's reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory."
Jeremy Davis, director of the Stonewall Democrats, said, "The real message to read in this is that the GOP's cognitive dissonance continues unabated and the apologists at Log Cabin Republicans are still selling snake oil and calling it progress."
The criticisms didn't only come from liberals. Jimmy LaSalvia, head of GOProud, another gay conservative group and a frequent critic of the Log Cabin Republicans, said, "The entire episode was a distraction and damaging to the efforts to elect Mitt Romney.
One gay Republican who attended the GOP platform sessions was James Abbott, an attorney and a donor to both the Log Cabin Republicans and Mitt Romney. He said he enjoyed walking around the ballroom wearing his Log Cabin Republican pin and "talking to everyone," and noted that he had a pleasant exchange about his adopted children with a woman who works for the Family Research Council.
For some gay Republicans exchanges like these are the most promising signs of progress in their party. But Michael Bronski, the author of "A Queer History of the United States," said he believes that the presence of people like Abbott at the sessions suggest the party is more socially conservative than ever. "The more conservative you get, perhaps the more imperative it is to have token representation with you," Bronski said. "You need a little bit of pro-choice women and some gay guys and some black people so that you aren't completely visibly homophobic, misogynistic and racist."