Gays and the GOP: Palin and Pawlenty Explore the Hornet's Nest

Just saying GOProud should participate in a Republican conference has social conservatives unsettled

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Sarah Palin did not say she supports gay marriage. She hasn't celebrated the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell. But she also did not say that a gay Republican group should be banned from participating in a big Republican conference, and for that, social conservatives are begging her to "clarify."

Controversy has been brewing for months over GOProud, a gay conservative group, and its participation in CPAC, one of the biggest Republican events of the year--a must-do for most aspiring presidential hopefuls. Many social conservative groups are boycotting the conference because GOProud was allowed to participate. But Palin said she thought GOProud belonged at the table, telling the Christian Broadcasting Network, "Should conservatives not reach out to others, not participate in events or forums that perhaps arising within those forums are issues that maybe we don’t personally agree with? And I say no." Palin then likened letting a gay group in the conference to sitting on a panel with "a bunch of the liberal folks."

As ABC News' Michael Falcone notes, American Principles Project president Frank Cannon called on Palin to "clarify" whether her definition of marriage is "a core component of conservatism"--since she probably wouldn't want a socialist group to participate in CPAC.

The incident highlights the debate among Republicans over just how crucial social conservatism is to their mission. Last month, Palin caused a stir by simply retweeting a pro-gay rights tweet from a gay conservative. And now Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who's long been on the short list for 2012 contenders but has never managed to get more than a few points in the polls,  wants to block funding for the Defense Department's implementation of Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal. More than half of Americans think gay relationships are "morally acceptable" now, but so far, the Republican Party remains divided.

  • GOP Will Have This Debate, Ready or Not, Hot Air's Allahpundit writes. "When you've got conservatives as prominent as Dick Cheney and Ted Olson in favor of gay marriage, when you've got even a majority of Republicans in favor of letting gay troops serve openly, then you've got a difference of opinion within the conservative tent that's worth exploring." And this explains Palin's position, too, he says: "The gay-marriage debate is here and it's happening, even within the conservative tent, which I assume is why Palin’s okay with GOProud’s CPAC sponsorship."
  • Does Pawlenty Really Believe This?  Doug Mataconis wonders at Outside the Beltway if the candidate earnestly believes in blocking implementation funding, or is "just pandering to the small minority of social conservatives who opposed repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell." The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen thinks Pawlenty's stance is cynical and shocking, given DADT's repeal was "backed by the Pentagon, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, most American servicemen and women, the vast majority of the public," etc.
  • Gays Are Republicans' Natural Allies, Reason's Nick Gillespie says. If the GOP wants to win the majority of 21st-century America, "they might want to be, you know, actually accepting of gays and lesbians who love not just the wrong gender but a minimal state. Indeed, given a terrible history of harassment by the state at all levels, you'd figure that GOPpers would understand that the third, fourth, fifth, et al sexes would be totally into less government regulation of their lives and workplaces. Instead of being likened to, shoot, 'a bunch of the liberal folks.'"
Reagan, having worked in Hollywood before getting into politics, had a lot of gays in his administration and close friends who were gay (Rock Hudson!). Not only that, however, but the year after he addressed CPAC, he was instrumental in helping defeat a ballot initiative in California that would have banned gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them from teaching in the state's public schools. A week before the vote on the initiative, Reagan wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner arguing, 'Whatever else it is, homosexuality is not a contagious disease like the measles. Prevailing scientific opinion is that an individual's sexuality is determined at a very early age and that a child's teachers do not really influence this.' It's hard to imagine that a politician brave enough to write such a statement in 1978, even as he was preparing to run for president, would have been especially cowed at the thought of bumping up against a few gay Republicans at CPAC.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.