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Inside Politics

Gay Republicans look for place in party

Disagreement over stance on social issues in platform

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

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California delegate Jeff Bissiri says the Republican Party needs to be more inclusive.
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- It's not easy being a gay Republican these days.

President Bush wants to change the Constitution to effectively ban same-sex marriage, the party platform goes even further by stating its opposition to civil unions for gay couples and no openly gay Republican has been invited to speak at the GOP convention.

And this week, Alan Keyes, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Illinois, agreed with a critical description of Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter.

Still, about 40 openly gay Republicans are at the convention as delegates or alternates for Bush, according to the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization for gay and lesbian Republicans.

"We're really here as a voice for what the future needs to be," said Patrick Sammon, a spokesman for the group. "We are getting that message out."

The Log Cabin Republicans lost a pre-convention bid to insert a "unity" plank in the platform, one that would have essentially said it's OK for Republicans to disagree on some social issues. And they're still licking their wounds from Bush's bid earlier this year to amend the Constitution to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples.

The proposal failed on a procedural vote in the Senate in July.

This week, the group has begun airing a commercial in New York City, asking Republicans whether they want to be a party of unity or one that practices "politics of intolerance and fear."

The group also remains undecided on whether it will officially endorse Bush for re-election.

"There is a brewing battle in the GOP for the future of this party," said Chris Barron, political director for the Log Cabin Republicans. He described that battle as one of "inclusion" or "division."

Gay Republicans here are taking some comfort in the choice of some high-profile speakers. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, have voiced support for gay rights in the past -- although neither mentioned that issue specifically in their prime-time speeches to delegates.

"Obviously, I would like to have us get to a point where we can have speakers speak to that on the floor," said Jeff Bissiri, a gay delegate from Los Angeles, California. "We're not there yet."

In fact, Sen. Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina delivered a speech Tuesday night which took a clear, uncompromising stand on marriage: "Marriage between a man and a woman isn't something Republicans invented, but it is something Republicans will defend."

The line drew strong applause.

Several gay Republicans here said they are drawn to the party because of its stand on economic, international and military issues. Several said they're not looking for the party to necessarily embrace something like same-sex marriage, but they want it to at least express support for issues like legal benefits for gay couples.

"We're not looking for some sort of group hug from the party," Barron said, saying he understands that some conservatives will never be comfortable with homosexuality.

While gay Republicans see their expectations as moderate and reasonable, they get little sympathy from either liberals or conservatives.

"I think they have some deep-seated self-hatred, and they really need to do some serious introspection," said Adam Jankowitz, who was walking around the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City with a gay rainbow flag draped over his shoulders.

From the conservative side, Genevieve Wood of the Family Research Council, said gay Republicans didn't understand the party's core principles if they expected it to stay silent on controversial social issues.

"Homosexuals can live with whomever they want to live with," Wood said. "The question is whether government has to endorse it."

One recent bright spot for gay Republicans came from Cheney.

At a rally last week, Cheney was asked about his views on "homosexual marriage." Cheney noted that one of his two daughters is gay and he declared his affection for both. He then he proceeded to signal that he believed the question of same-sex marriage was best left to the states -- a position that put him at odds with Bush.

That made Keyes' comments this week particularly galling to gay Republicans here. During an interview with a satellite radio station that provides gay and lesbian programming, Keyes on Monday night described homosexuality as "selfish hedonism" and then replied "of course" when asked if Mary Cheney -- an adviser to her father's campaign -- was a "selfish hedonist."

Said Bissiri: "Keyes' remarks were disgusting, and every Republican should condemn them utterly."


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