WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – On Nov. 28, 2007, a question was asked to the Republican presidential candidates during the CNN-YouTube debate concerning whether they would accept the support of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans whose mission is to “secure full equality for gays and lesbians.” Mike Huckabee responded to the question.
“I disagree with them, strongly disagree with them on the idea of same-sex marriage, but in a democracy we can have disagreements on some policies and still agree on the greater things that make us Republicans,” Huckabee said. “So would I accept their support? Of course. Would I change my position on same-sex marriage? No, I wouldn’t.”
That night, Mitt Romney was standing next to Huckabee. He looked on and listened to Huckabee’s answer. The following day, the Log Cabin Republicans launched a radio ad against Romney in New Hampshire attacking his fiscal record, just a month after blasting the former Massachusetts governor in Iowa for his shift on abortion.
The relationship between the most influential openly gay Republican organization and Romney, the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee, has presented an interesting dynamic. In the days since President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage, Log Cabin Republicans are coming to terms with their role in November’s general election, the first featuring a sitting president who has publicly supported marriage equality. It is uncharted territory for all, especially for a small group of Republicans whose profile has increased and evolved in the days following the president’s affirmation of same-sex marriage.
“It removes one of the legs for Log Cabin Republicans to stand on because it makes clear that the gap between the two parties on gay rights remains quite wide,” New York University political science professor Patrick Egan told CBSDC, referring to the effect the president’s sentiments has on the group’s identity.
Log Cabin Republican officials indicate that the president’s statements were more of a political move than anything, despite his stance being an important step forward for marriage equality advocates. R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, told CBSDC that the group’s relationship with the Republican Party as a whole has benefited from a generational shift within the party and more of a general acceptance of the LGBT community.
“Things have improved in the party, but not because of the president’s statements,” Cooper said. “It was kind of a ‘dog barks’ moment. He said it before and walked away from it, and reaffirmed it again.”
The group opposed the president’s motive for the same-sex marriage support, making light of the recent passage of Amendment 1 in North Carolina, which bans recognition of any “domestic legal union” that doesn’t involve a man and a woman.
“That the president has chosen today … to finally speak up for marriage equality is offensive and callous,” Cooper said in a statement at the time. He added: “This administration has manipulated LGBT families for political gain as much as anybody, and after his campaign’s ridiculous contortions to deny support for marriage equality this week he does not deserve praise for an announcement that comes a day late and a dollar short.”
Whether the latest development in the marriage equality conversation could lead to a shift in Log Cabin Republican voters backing the president rather than Romney remains unclear. It has, however, given way to a more open dialogue about the specifics included in Romney’s firm opposition to same-sex marriage, such as protection against discrimination in the workplace.
“Despite Romney’s opposition to same sex marriage, what you see in his statements on gay rights can be a little muddy,” said Egan, who focuses on lesbian, gay and bisexual issues in politics. “I don’t think anyone has pinned him down yet on whether he supports protection against employment discrimination for gay people. While certainly the mainstream Republican view is that there should be no protection, you have seen some breaking away by certain Republicans on that issue in Congress.”
Obama’s support for gay marriage has been met with a mixed response among voters. In a USA Today/Gallup Poll from earlier this month, 26 percent of Americans indicated that the president’s endorsement would make them less likely to vote for him, compared to 13 percent that said they’d be more apt to vote for Obama because of his support. The LGBT vote, however, remains an uphill climb for Romney in November. Cooper said that 31 percent of the electorate that defined themselves as a part of the LGBT community voted for Republicans during the midterm elections in 2010, up from the 28 percent that voted for Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election.
To date, Log Cabin Republicans have not made a decision as to who to endorse for the general election. An automatic endorsement from the group for the GOP nominee is not a slam dunk, as the group has deferred from endorsing candidates in the past. For the estimated 40,000 people who’ve formally identified themselves with the Log Cabin Republicans, it’s an issue that continues to linger in different circles of the GOP, even if polling indicates that same-sex marriage is not what’s driving LGBT voters to the polls.
“Even within Republican Party, there are multiple opinions on this issue,” Cooper said.