Saturday concluded the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Md. Like every CPAC, the event featured fiery speeches, big name politicians and men looking for gay sex. If Craigslist for the National Harbor area is any indication, more than a handful of self-identified CPAC attendees were looking to meet some like-minded men after the speeches ended. This certainly isn’t the first year the CPAC has brought with it a contingent of frisky gentlemen, and under other circumstances, it really wouldn’t matter. What two men do in their hotel room is really none of our business, even if they advertise it on Craigslist. But these aren’t other circumstances; this is the foremost meeting of conservative activists in the U.S., and it has a big gay problem.
While gay and bisexual men attending CPAC casually fraternize, CPAC’s organizer — the American Conservative Union — has less than stellar opinions of homosexuals, even if they are Republicans. There was no better proof of this than the consistent rejection of both prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Republican organizations (GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans) from CPAC. While members of GOProud were invited to attend this year, the organization’s cofounders, Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia, both decried the ACU’s invite as a half-hearted attempt to appease the organization. GOProud is still not allowed to have an information table during the conference and has been forbidden from cosponsoring it. While both the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud attended CPAC in 2011, socially conservative groups like the American Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council have since voiced objections to the presence of gay people. Has anyone shown them Craigslist?
Whether the ACU likes it or not, gay people are real. They are human beings, and they have the free will to vote Republican. Unfortunately, even the most fiscally conservative gay person would have reservations, when they see the premier conservative conference ignoring their advocacy groups’ offers to participate. Not only is CPAC’s lack of gay visibility a poor reflection of the attendants, it is a poor reflection of regional party opinions. Since (and even leading up to) the Supreme Court’s landmark 2013 rulings in Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, Republicans have been changing their tune about same-sex marriage. Close to 80 retired Republican politicians filed a brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry, stating their opposition to California’s voter approved same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8. More recently, Gov. Brian Sandoval, R-Nev., declined to defend his state’s voter-approved 2002 marriage ban in a court challenge. Perhaps the most surprising example of Republican support for same-sex marriage came recently from a group of 20 Midwestern conservatives, in their brief to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver. In the brief, they argue that Utah’s and Oklahoma’s bans on same-sex marriage destabilize LGBT families, and run contrary to government interests in encouraging and preserving families.
Among Republicans, such views represent a fairly extreme step to the political left. However, same-sex marriage is not a primary plank of either GOProud or the Log Cabin Republicans. While both groups advocate strongly for a more limited government that does not ban same-sex marriages, their agendas focus mainly on tax reform and free market capitalism. As openly gay people, they expect to be treated fairly, but they aren’t ready to violently demand nationwide same-sex marriage.
For CPAC, the decision to include gay Republicans in its conference comes down to a question of principles. What is modern, American conservatism? Is it an unwavering devotion to God, an unquestioned opposition to sinners, and a large defense budget? Or is it a commitment to making people as free from government as possible? With the slew of recent voter ID laws, women’s reproductive health restrictions and vociferous opposition to same-sex marriage, there is nothing “limited” about the Republican governing model. And yet, many Republicans accept these to be the foundations of their party.
If this is to be the essence of American conservatism, statistics tell us that the party is dying. While Ann Coulter brays about Democrats supporting immigration reform to recruit new voters, her own party withers under the pressure of its “ideals”: ideals of elitism, exclusion and self-aggrandizement. The survival of American conservatism is predicated upon groups like the ACU taking a major reality check, and letting the gays come to CPAC.
Richard Furstein is a senior anthropology major at Drexel University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.