Gay Republican Group Prompts Split Among Conservatives

Former Vice President Dick Cheney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2010.
AP

Early this year, a striking scene emerged from the Conservative Political Action Conference: A speaker was essentially booed offstagewhen he condemned CPAC for allowing gay Republican group GOProud to participate in the conference.

The incident - which occurred at perhaps the nation's premiere conservative gathering - suggested that, after decades of demonization, gays may have finally found a place in the GOP. Further evidence came when former Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman came out of the closet- and was subsequently widely embraced by establishment Republicans.

Yet opposition to homosexuality remains strong among some conservatives. This week, two socially conservative groups, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America, announced that they are opting out of next year's CPAC because GOProud had been invited. The Family Research Council's Tom McClusky told far-right news website WorldNetDaily that part of the reason for the decision was CPAC's "movement away from conservative principles," as evidenced by the inclusion of GOProud.

WorldNetDaily, incidentally, has a dog in the fight: In August, conservative commentator Ann Coulter was dropped from its "Taking America Back National Conference" because of her participation in a GOProud event called "Homocon."The site's editor said Coulter "clearly does not recognize that the ideals to be espoused there simply do not include the radical and very 'unconservative' agenda represented by GOProud."

In addition to the Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America, the following conservative groups are declining to participate in CPAC partly over GOProud's inclusion, according to WorldNetDaily: The American Principles Project, American Values, Capital Research Center, the Center for Military Readiness, Liberty Counsel, and the National Organization for Marriage.

There was some blowback to GOProud's participation at the 2010 conference - Liberty University Law School pulled its sponsorship of the event - but it was muted compared to the response for the 2011 conference.

GOProud is no liberal group: executive director Jimmy LaSalvia has pushed a Dick Cheney presidential run, and he told CBSNews.com earlier this year not to "assume that just because we support equality issues we support a big government agenda of government takeover of health care, labor unions, climate change mumbo jumbo."

CPAC, meanwhile, is considered a must-stop for prominent Republicans, and many of the GOP's 2012 presidential contenders are expected to make their case there in February. The groups boycotting the event are urging members to instead attend the Values Voters Summit, a competing gathering of conservative activists.

A CBS News pollover the summer found that 43 percent of Americans currently see homosexual relations between consenting adults as "wrong" - a drop of 19 percentage points from a Gallup poll taken in 1978.

Among that 43 percent, it appears, is Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, which WorldNetDaily describes as "the nation's best-known organization dedicated exclusively to opposing the homosexual political agenda."

"By bringing in GOProud, CPAC was effectively saying moral opposition to homosexuality is no longer welcome in the conservative movement," he told the site. "Would CPAC bring in an organization specifically devoted to promoting abortion and pretend it's conservative?"

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