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What does it take to be a gay Republican? For one thing, a long view

They're a minority at the Republican Convention – particularly on issues like same-sex marriage. But gay delegates and activists support the Romney-Ryan ticket on other issues, and they see signs that they're changing their party from within.

By Staff writer / August 27, 2012

Ingrid Fuhriman from Bellevue, Wash., and Natalie Lavering from Lake Stevens, Wash., cheer as they watch a video presentation during an abbreviated session of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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TAMPA, FLA.

For gay Republicans – a distinct minority whose numbers and visibility are nonetheless growing steadily – their party’s position on issues personally close to home has not prevented them from supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket.

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For now, it seems, the definition of marriage held to by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan and chiseled into the GOP platform – one man and one woman – takes a back seat to economic recovery and job creation.

“I’m very happy to support Mitt Romney so we can get the country back on the path to prosperity,” says Michael Carr, a young (32), gay businessman who’s running for the state senate in Colorado. “We care about social issues too, but we have to prioritize.”

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Although the party platform – reflecting the political clout of religious conservatives who dominate the party on most social issues – calls for a constitutional amendment effectively outlawing same-sex marriage (and even rejected a motion to approve civil unions), gay political leaders say they feel very much at home here.

“We’ve been extremely welcome,” says R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the national group that actively lobbies for gay rights and like-minded candidates. “The Republican National Committee, the delegates, the staff have all gone out of their way to make us welcome.”

Mr. Cooper is typical of what many see as a new generation of conservatives who happen to be gay: Young (40), an Iraq War combat veteran (Army captain and intelligence officer), who says, “We really need to have the party focus on its core – individual liberties, the size of government, tax reform, and national security.”

At the same time, he and others in Tampa see a party that’s shifting on social issues – especially those including individual liberties related to sexual orientation.

Of the 17 House races his organization worked on in 2010, says Cooper, 12 went for the candidate considered friendly to the cause.

He points out that it was a Republican lawmaker in the US Senate – Susan Collins of Maine – who championed repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly-gay service members. Another Republican, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, is a lead sponsor of a bill to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.

Just as President Obama and Vice-president Biden did recently on same-sex marriage – an issue former vice-president Dick Cheney (one of whose daughters is a lesbian) has supported for years – Cooper and others see the inevitability of a more open attitude among Republicans. Public opinion polls in recent years now show a majority of Americans – even larger majorities of younger voters – approving gay marriage.

“I look at myself as a force for change in the GOP,” says Mr. Carr, the state senate candidate in Denver. “The party’s changing, the demographics are changing.”

Though they say they hold to the traditional definition of marriage, both House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus call for theirs to be a “party of inclusion.” There’s a sense among at least some gay rights advocates that this signals more than racial and ethnic minorities.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported recently, some wealthy Republicans (including billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer) have begun donating to groups backing marriage rights for gay men and lesbians as well as to the Romney campaign and other GOP causes.

“The strong support that we’re getting from members of both parties indicates that this has become a mainstream American cause,” Marc Solomon, national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, told the Washington Post. “This is not the same wedge issue that it was eight years ago.”

But for now, gay Republicans supporting the Romney-Ryan ticket in essence say, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

“Financial freedom counts more than anything else,” says Luis Caballero, a gay real estate appraiser from Miami, who came to Tampa for his party’s convention.

The economy has had a severe impact on Mr. Caballero’s business, and he knows many people who have lost their jobs or homes.

It’s a situation that makes it difficult to advocate for gay rights to the exclusion of the economy, he says, adding: “You don’t have to be a progressive or a socialist to be gay anymore.”

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