TAMPA (CNN) — A man hurrying to catch the light at a corner in muggy downtown Tampa carries a book with a rainbow of color on its cover.
Its title stands out, especially here, where the Republican National Convention has officially accepted a platform that a New York Times editorial called “more aggressive in its opposition to women’s reproductive rights and to gay rights than any in memory.”
The book is “A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights.”
Ted McCormac is a precinct committee person for the GOP in Bradenton, Florida, and the father of a gay son. He picked up the book at a brunch co-hosted by the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and the Log Cabin Republicans — two of a small number of visible LGBT-supportive Republican groups at this year’s convention.
Individual members of the Log Cabin Republicans have attended previous conventions, but this year marks a first for the group: It was invited by the Republican National Convention committee to participate in the convention itself. In addition, there are many high-profile, gay-themed events this year, including the brunch McCormac attended. “I’ve never been to an event of theirs, but people clearly went out of their way to be nice to me,” McCormac said, with a catch in his voice. “It means so much since I’m kind of new at this.”
In fact, Sarah Longwell, a Log Cabin board member and one of the speakers at the brunch, began her speech by talking about McCormac. She said she teared up when she met McCormac there and he told her how proud he and his wife are of their son, Tony.
Tony McCormac is getting married to Jeff Cook, who was also there working on behalf of American Unity, a political action committee that supports Republican candidates who are gay friendly. Cook is so involved in Republican politics that they’ve scheduled their ceremony In New York after the November election.
“That’s what this is all about — events where we can talk to Republicans about why marriage matters for our community, conservative to conservative,” Longwell said.
Longwell’s own engagement is so new she still stumbles a little when she describes Karen Bencala as her “fiancee.” But her message about why conservatives should back same-sex marriage comes through loud and clear. She shared it Wednesday with all the Republicans gathered for the convention in the form of a full-page ad in the Tampa Tribune, paid for by the Log Cabin and Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.
The ad shows several photos of same-sex couples smiling under a quote from Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a Christian right think tank that is far from gay friendly. In his argument that successfully added anti-same sex marriage language to the party’s platform, Perkins said, “The institution of marriage is the foundation of civil society. Its success as an institution will determine our success as a nation.”
Longwell’s ad goes on to say the LGBT Republican groups agree with Perkins, which is why the government should stop denying marriage licenses to gay couples. “The freedom to marry is directly in line with the core ideals and principles of the Republican Party — less government, more individual freedom, personal responsibility and the importance of freedom,” it argues.
“What I want to ask Tony Perkins if I see him here is, ‘If you believe marriage is the very foundation of society, why would you deny us this right?’ ” Longwell said. “I honestly believe it’s cruel to deny us this. If you believe we are real people, that is.”
As she finishes speaking, Longwell recognizes a man from the Family Research Council riding an escalator into the carefully secured convention center and wonders whether she could catch up with him.
Until this year, Longwell may not have had the credentials to follow him into those secured areas, at least not as a Log Cabin Republican. One of the Log Cabin’s former directors says this is the first year the RNC has credentialed the group and saved rooms for its members in official hotel space.
Bob Kabel says the evolution of the roles that openly gay people play at the convention — and in the party itself — has been remarkable. Kabel was the chairman of the Log Cabin Republicans from 1993 to 1999. He went on to be elected the first openly gay person in the nation to chair a state Republican Party, in the District of Columbia. Early on, he says, he felt forced to stand up at a public meeting and shame the Republican National Convention chair into an official meeting with Log Cabin.
“The current RNC leadership has been much better. They’ve been great,” Kabel said. “We feel so much more welcome, and the voices of the Tony Perkinses in the party will be drowned out as more young people come into the party. This is not a negative issue for young people in our party. And we are more visible than ever.”
Proof of his statement was visible Tuesday at a GOProud dance party called “Homocon,” where many young gay and straight convention danced in the shadow of buff go-go dancers wearing the LGBT group’s “freedom is fabulous” T-shirts. At the door on the way out of the event, attendees received a convention collector’s item — a keychain with the GOProud logo.
Late into the evening, GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia hushed the dancing crowd for a moment. He described how proud he was that his was the first gay GOP group to endorse this Republican presidential ticket — even if he personally disagreed with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s stance against same-sex marriage. To him, the gay community is so mainstream within the party that GOProud shouldn’t solely be about gay issues.
“As most of you know, I support civil marriage for gay couples,” LaSalvia said, which drew a smattering of supportive shouts from the crowd. “And marriage is important. But before you get married, you need a date. And everybody knows you can’t get a date without a job.”
By Jen Christensen – CNN
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