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Op-ed: CPAC Debacle Shows GOP Is Still Ruled By Social Conservatives

By Alex Zadel

The two most prominent LGBTQ organizations in the conservative movement, GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans, are getting the cold shoulder from the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Since 1973, CPAC, hosted annually by the American Conservative Union Foundation, has attracted thousands of activists and some of the biggest names on the Right, with this year’s March 14 to 16 speaker line-up including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Sarah Palin. Under pressure from participating anti-LGBTQ organizations, the major annual conservative gathering rejected GOProud as a conference sponsor in 2012 and again this year. It’s unclear whether the Log Cabin Republicans’ absence is due to an official refusal or solidarity with GOProud.

The decision is facing a hail of criticism from both conservative and liberal commentators, including S.E. Cupp and Chris Hayes, who have refused to speak at next week’s conference if GOProud is not allowed in.

Those responsible for the exclusion, after GOProud was a co-sponsor in 2010 and 2011, include some of the most socially conservative organizations affiliated with the ACUF: Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council, American Family Association, Liberty University, and Heritage Foundation, which recently appointed as their president then-Senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite known for his known for his hostile positions on LGBTQ rights and abortion. These groups boycotted the 2011 conference, arguing CPAC’s philosophy was not conservative enough and citing, “in part” the inclusion of GOProud as a sign. Brent Brozel of the Media Research Center argued, “To bring in a ‘gay’ group is a direct attack on social conservatives.”

This controversy demonstrates that social conservatives still hold substantial power on the Right, allowing them to direct the conservative agenda against changing times. Electoral rebukes in November and majority support for same-sex marriage lead many Republican leaders to rethink their stance, with more than 75 recently signing a legal brief in support of marriage equality.

In an informal survey, a Forbes contributor estimated that, in 2012, 4 in 5 attendees felt it was wrong to exclude GOProud and cited other issues like the economy as much higher on their list of priorities. (Considering the conference generally trends libertarian and over half of attendees are between 18 and 29 years of age, this statistic is not too surprising.) But the decision to continue to exclude gay groups at CPAC has some still asking, as one headline reads, “What GOP Makeover?”

GOProud’s executive director, Jimmy LaSalvia, says it is no question whether the group’s sexuality is a factor in the ban, tweeting last month: “We got kicked out last year because we are gay. Nothing has changed.”

 

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