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How will Republicans deal with growing gay rights issues?

On same-sex marriage and "don't ask, don't tell," Republicans and other conservatives increasingly are at odds with public opinion. Will the tea party movement help gay rights?

By Staff writer / September 25, 2010

In this 2006 photo, Ken Mehlman, then-chairman of the Republican National Committee, addresses the RNC state chairmen's meeting in Colorado Springs, Colo. Mehlman, who was campaign manager for George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential campaign, said recently that he is gay and is now willingly to talk about it publicly because he wants to become an advocate for gay marriage.

Ed Andrieski/AP/File

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Chances are, there are just as many gay Republicans as there are gay Democrats – why wouldn’t there be? – even though one might assume otherwise based on commonly-held assumptions about what it means to be “conservative” or “liberal,” particularly when religion and “family values” are thrown into the mix.

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But no matter how one argues those points, the GOP finds itself in a rapidly evolving situation regarding sexual orientation and gay rights.

In Washington the other day, the group Log Cabin Republicans honored what it called “allies in its fight to create a more inclusive Republican Party.” Among them were six Republican members of Congress, including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the Republican National Congressional Committee.

The group’s mission statement includes standard conservative boilerplate: “balanced budgets and fiscal discipline,” comprehensive tax reform, Social Security “allowing individuals to invest in their futures,” strong national defense, and “market driven health reform.”

But the main aim of the Log Cabin Republicans (named for Abraham Lincoln’s legendary home) is “to work within the Republican Party to advocate equal rights for all Americans, including gays and lesbians.” That includes “marriage equality for all Americans,” a “broad, inclusive definition of family in America,” and repealing the “don't ask, don't tell” law preventing gay and lesbian Americans from openly serving in the military.

Gay Republicans versus their party leaders

The irony, of course, is that neither Cornyn nor Sessions supports same-sex marriage or doing away with don’t ask, don’t tell.

Public attitudes are moving inexorably in the opposite direction regarding don’t ask, don’t tell – especially among younger people. In 1993, 44 percent of Americans polled said gay people who are open about their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. By 2001, that had risen to 62 percent, and in 2008 it was 75 percent – including majorities of Republicans as well as Democrats and independents.

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