What Does the â€˜08 Election Hold for Gay Republicans?
For more than three decades, Brian Bennett threw himself into Republican politics, including serving as a delegate to five national conventions.
The pro-life, fiscal conservative was also part of the "Austin 12," a group of 11 gay men and one lesbian who, in an historic meeting in 2000, shared the joys and difficulties of being gay in a session with George W. Bush, then the presumptive Republican nominee.
But when Bush made a sharp turn away from earlier gay-supportive words and deeds, most notably by pushing for an anti-gay constitutional amendment, Bennett got fed up and cut back on his time and money commitments to the GOP.
Bennett is among the 25 percent of gay Americans who vote Republican. I caught up with several Austin 12-ers as well as other gay Republicans just before the kickoff to the caucuses and primaries that will select the GOP presidential nominee. I heard a lot of pain, frustration and dwindling patience.
Most, like Bennett, said they are backing Rudy Giuliani. As mayor of New York, he pushed for and signed a sweeping domestic partnership law in 1998.
"I will do everything I can to get him elected because we need a shift in the party," said Carl Schmid, an Austin 12-er and co-chair of the Giuliani effort in Washington, D.C.
But even while expressing hope that Giuliani would carry his gay-rights record as mayor into the White House, his gay supporters worry about some of the positions taken by presidential candidate Giuliani, such as criticizing New Hampshire's civil unions, calling gay sex "sinful," and saying if five or six states permit gay marriage "then we should have a constitutional amendment" against it. (More on the GOP field's gay views is at logcabin.org.)
"There has been some awkwardness [with Giuliani]," says Scott Evertz, who led AIDS efforts for the Bush administration until 2005 and is now a Giuliani supporter. "But I feel [Giuliani] would likely continue his strong, positive gay record in the White House."
But Rebecca Maestri, an Austin 12-er who says she isn't wowed by anyone in the GOP field, says she is leaning toward John McCain because of his "experience and optimism." While his record on gay issues is largely negative, she predicts as president McCain would be "measured. I don't think you'd see some of the mean-spirited actions."
Gay Republicans view the next few weeks as directing their party down one of two fateful roads. As one predicted off the record, picking Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney, who are intensely wooing religious conservatives, would be "the Thelma and Louise moment" that would send the Republican Party off a cliff.
Or as Jim McFarland, an Austin 12-er who is vice president of the gay Log Cabin's Wisconsin chapter and a Giuliani backer, puts it, "The future of the Republican Party depends on who the nominee is. We could see the demise of the Republican Party. If it continues down the road of focusing on motivating fundamentalist Christian voters, that will fail."
Despite insult and injury, gay Republicans have stuck by their party. The next few weeks will be gut-wrenching for them and will determine whether their party can count on getting most of their votes next November.