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Can This Marriage Be Saved?

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Can This Marriage Be Saved?


Published: April 11, 2004

For many years, the Log Cabin Republicans have known the particular torment of being aligned with a cause easily lampooned as ridiculous. You are a what? they are asked in various ways. A gay Republican? A gay conservative? What does that even mean? And by the way, don't you know that your so-called allies actually despise you? ''You're attacked in social settings,'' Patrick Guerriero, Log Cabin's executive director, told me. ''You lose dates. It's not easy.'' What is even more difficult, though, is to have your loyalty thrown back in your face by the very people with whom you have united -- and to arrive at that moment of truth when you must acknowledge that those who have confronted you, or snickered behind your back, may, in fact, have a point.

On Feb. 24, President Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage, declaring that ''the union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution.'' The next day, I made my first visit to Log Cabin's cramped offices in a second-floor walk-up in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington. Log Cabin is a nationwide organization of gay Republicans dedicated to ''inclusion'' in the party. Its mission has been to work for Republicans while making the party a welcoming place for conservatives who happen to be gay. No one I encountered in the Washington headquarters, though, bothered to try to put a positive spin on Bush's remarks. These were men (and Log Cabin is mostly men) who worked for Bush's 2000 election, raised money for him, in some cases personally beseeched him not to take this step. They defined themselves as fiscal conservatives, backers of a strong military and the war on Iraq -- supporters of a whole range of traditional American values. Yes, they were gay, but that was only part of their identities. They were also Republicans through and through, and their deepest hope had been to be accepted as such. Now they felt betrayed.

''I am just broken-hearted,'' Mark Mead, Log Cabin's director of public affairs, told me. Mead, 43, grew up in Mississippi and is a former official of the Republican Party in Kentucky. He has been in a relationship for 14 years and says that he would marry if he could. ''But I don't want a gay marriage,'' he said. ''I want a conventional marriage,'' meaning not a civil union but the same ceremonies and rights afforded to straight couples. His partner works for the Environmental Protection Agency as a political appointee of the Bush administration. They met in an elevator at their former workplace -- the Republican National Committee.

Guerriero, 36, is a former Massachusetts legislator and two-term mayor of Melrose, Mass. He was a candidate for Massachusetts lieutenant governor. He came out in his early 20's and is single and ''dating.'' He said to me, without a trace of irony: ''All I want is to be treated like the law-abiding, tax-paying, God-fearing conservative American than I am.''

Log Cabin counted as recent victories certain things that some others might not recognize as major triumphs -- for example, the fact that Bush has not rescinded an executive order from Bill Clinton banning discrimination in the federal work force on the basis of sexual preference. But clearly the biggest issue has been whether the Bush administration would back a constitutional amendment on marriage. Bush had indicated he would not take that step, or at least was not eager to do so, but he began wavering this year after Massachusetts judges cleared the way for gay marriages and San Francisco began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

Prominent gay Republicans (and many gay Democrats as well) did not necessarily want gay marriage at the forefront of the political debate in this presidential season. But once it was, they fought to keep Bush from seeking an amendment. Guerriero approached Bush at a Christmas party at the White House in December. ''I thanked him for all that he had done and asked him not to support this,'' he said. ''So in that sense, I guess I failed.''

Everyone at Log Cabin told me that Bush's call for a constitutional amendment offended conservative sensibilities, that the Constitution is a sacred document and it shouldn't be tinkered with to fit the vagaries of a political season. They talked about ''not writing discrimination into the Constitution,'' which counts as a good sound bite -- always a valuable thing in Washington. But in reality, this is much more personal than that. At Log Cabin, Bush's pronouncement was received like a kick in the gut. They referred to it as the first shot in a new ''culture war'' -- a war in which they felt, as gay Americans, vulnerable and under attack. ''Until a month before it happened, I thought this was just theater,'' Guerriero said. ''I was naive; I didn't think it would get to this stage. But the far right is so determined. They are constantly talking about gay people. They are more obsessed about gay people than we are.''

There is no monolithic thought among gays on the issue of marriage. Not everyone wants to be married, or even necessarily agrees that the institution of marriage is something they must embrace. (''Why am I defending gay marriage? I don't want to get married; I'm just looking for a date,'' I heard Guerriero joke with a CNN producer as he walked into a studio for an interview.) There does, however, seem to be unanimous opposition to the amendment and to being specifically barred from marrying. It feels like an expression of hate. And in political terms, it feels to Log Cabin members, as committed Republicans, as if they have been thrown overboard to satisfy the party's social conservatives.

Guerriero said that he barely slept the night after Bush's remarks in February. He kept asking himself: What led to this? He couldn't make sense of it. One moment he thought he had been making some progress; the next, he was reliving Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston, the one in which Buchanan explicitly called for a culture war and might, at that moment, have doomed the re-election hopes of the current president's father. ''When I couldn't sleep,'' Guerriero said, ''I was thinking, 25 years from now, if someone asks, what did Patrick and Log Cabin do -- I want to know we did the right things.''

But what would those be? Guerriero is a dedicated Republican, after all, and there's a pretty big election coming up. The Republican Unity Coalition, a ''gay-straight alliance'' that grew out of Bush's 2000 campaign, also opposes the amendment, but Alan Simpson, the former Wyoming senator and the R.U.C.'s honorary chairman, told me the group will not ''repudiate the president'' over it. ''I disagree that we need to amend the Constitution over this,'' he said. ''Let the states do their own thing. But this is one-issue stuff, and I always had a problem with one-issue people.''

This did not feel like just another issue to Guerriero, as if he merely came out on the losing side of a political dust-up. ''At a certain point,'' he said, ''party loyalty needs to be balanced with personal integrity and dignity.''

Washington is a city that most Americans feel they know something about -- how bills become law, the separation of powers, the iconic monuments. Close readers of news coverage gain some idea of how lobbying works and about the intersection of power, money and influence. But the city's culture and personality are not so easily grasped. Washington is more introverted than, say, New York or Los Angeles -- people tend to want to work long hours and then retreat to private spaces at night.

What people from outside political Washington may not fully realize is the extent to which gay and lesbian staff members populate offices in the executive branch and Congress -- and by no means just on the Democratic side. ''The perception outside the Beltway would be that if there are gay staff members, they must work on Barney Frank's or Teddy Kennedy's staff,'' said Christopher Barron, Log Cabin's political director. ''The reality is there are gay men and women working in tons of Republican offices, in the White House and in the president's re-election campaign.''

Precise numbers would be impossible to establish. Just as they are everywhere, gay men and lesbians in D.C. are in various stages of out -- fully out, out to trusted co-workers but not to the boss, out at home but not at work. A Republican lawmaker usually comes from a fairly conservative community, so a gay staff member may therefore have greater incentive to keep his sexuality a secret. ''This is definitely a more closeted city than some other places,'' said David Catania, a Republican city councilman in D.C. who is gay. ''We're in conservative professions here. If you work for someone, your job as an aide is to be in the background, not part of the story and certainly not part of some whispering campaign. But oh, my God, this town could not function without the gays and lesbians who by and large don't have responsibilities for children, who can work 80 hours and who sacrifice everything on behalf of their careers.''

In the view of Mead, Log Cabin's public affairs director, the Clinton administration ''paraded'' its gay appointees and made a show of the diversity they represented. ''Gay Democrats need the hug,'' he said. ''It was like, 'Look at our gay ambassador.' We don't want that.''

Log Cabin began in the late 1970's in California to defeat a ballot initiative that would have prevented gay men and lesbians from teaching in the state's public schools. It now has chapters in 25 states and about 10,000 members, not a large number, but the organization represents a quiet force. It includes not only gay Republican staff members in the nation's capital but, on some symbolic level, also the estimated one million gay men and women who voted for George Bush in 2000 (out of four million gay voters). Log Cabin is basically an interest group dedicated to moving the Republican Party toward what they consider its essential principles: limited government and support for individual freedoms. The organization maintains a small political action committee, but it has raised money mainly through ''bundling'' -- collecting checks and hand-delivering them to campaigns. Members do their lobbying within the party and make no secret of the fact that they consider themselves in a battle with the party's religious right. ''The people who really wanted this,'' Guerriero said, referring to Bush's backing of the marriage amendment, ''are the far right. These are people who have an agenda of marginalizing gay and lesbian Americans.''


It is fair to say that the Log Cabin activists I met were driven, to some degree, by a deeply personal interest: they are political beings, Republicans to the core, who desperately want to feel comfortable within their own party. They want to be members of the club. They don't need to be embraced, but they don't want to be despised. ''On a personal level, it's just depressing,'' Barron said on that first day I visited the headquarters. ''I couldn't wait to come in here and feel better.''

In contrast to Log Cabin, the Republican Unity Coalition calls itself a ''grass tops'' (as opposed to grass roots) group, and it has courted high-profile supporters, including former President Gerald Ford, in support of its stated mission of ''making homosexuality a 'nonissue' for the Republican Party.'' But the gay leadership of the R.U.C.'s gay-straight alliance does not sound as if it's as solidly in Bush's corner as former Senator Simpson is. In the days after Bush came out for the amendment, Donald Capoccia, a New York real estate developer and R.U.C.'s co-chairman, resigned his presidential appointment to the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and condemned Bush for ''endorsing this extreme measure.'' R.U.C.'s other co-chairman, Charles Francis, a public affairs consultant in Washington, said that he preferred that Simpson's words stand for the R.U.C.'s position. ''We are not going to repudiate the president,'' he told me, echoing the former Wyoming senator. But when I asked if he would continue to raise money for Bush, he said, ''I have done all I can do at this point,'' even though seven months remain to work on Bush's behalf. The president's most prominent gay supporter would not even say if he planned to vote to re-elect him. ''I don't want to discuss how I'm going to vote,'' Francis told me. ''The point to make is that we profoundly disagree with the federal marriage amendment, but the R.U.C. will continue to work in the Republican vineyard.''

The Senate moved more quickly than the House to take up the issue of a marriage amendment, and early in March, its Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held the first of several planned hearings. (The House began hearings later in the month.) When Guerriero and his staff gathered around a conference table in their office to plan a lobbying strategy -- to decide which Republicans in the Senate could be picked off and separated from the president's strategy, and how best to go about that -- Barron, 30, sat with a laptop computer in front of him, scanning a list of those considered most likely to oppose an amendment. They went down the names, one by one. Who would give them a meeting? Who could be lobbied? Who was not even worth talking to? I was fascinated by the turn the conversation immediately took. ''He's got a gay son, right?'' Guerriero said when one senator's name came up. Someone confirmed that yes, the senator's son was definitely gay. Another senator was mentioned -- with another possibly gay son -- but no one seemed quite sure about this one.

Guerriero turned in my direction. ''We're learning that most people do have gay people in their families,'' he said. Patrick Sammon, a Log Cabin staff member, chimed in from across the table, ''Especially Republicans.'' Everybody had a good laugh about that.

But these conversations had a serious intent. Guerriero and his staff were not contemplating anything akin to political blackmail -- or outing, which they adamantly oppose. They were making an educated bet on where they would find empathy, and they knew that it would most likely come from those who had personal relationships with gay men or women. ''Every poll says that's a huge factor,'' Guerriero pointed out. ''It's a bigger factor than party affiliation or anything else. If you know someone who is gay or have a family member who is, you are much more likely to be supportive on these issues -- workplace discrimination, hate crimes, gay marriage.''

The conversation turned to a couple of senators who were known to have gay staff members but who were unlikely to oppose an amendment publicly. If it came to a vote, they would probably support it. But Guerriero sensed they could be approached. ''Try to get a meeting,'' he instructed Barron, who was leading the lobbying effort. ''If they can't help us, at least get them not to go out on the floor and debate in favor of it.''

The President is famously comfortable with all kinds of people and has a gift for putting nearly anyone at ease. When I visited David Catania in his City Council office, he recounted attending a Bush fund-raiser in 2000 at a hotel in Washington. It was a crowded event, but Bush at one point saw Catania across the room and yelled something in his direction. ''He always likes to razz me,'' Catania said. ''I think he made a joke about if anybody needed a parking ticket fixed in D.C., they should see me.''

Last August Catania attended a party in Crawford, Tex., an invitation he earned because his fund-raising for the president had put him in the ''maverick'' category -- activists under 40 who raise at least $50,000. The memory he carries from that event is much more meaningful. Catania took his partner, Brian Kearney, a lawyer. In the receiving line, Catania said, ''the president went out of his way to thank me for bringing Brian. He didn't have to do that. Then he turned his attention to Brian, and had a very nice, intimate conversation with him. I just thought that was very respectful, and very nice. He was genuinely terrific to us.''

Catania can recite an impressively long list of things the Republican Party has achieved, going all the way back to the Homestead Act of 1862. He comes from a family of politically involved Republicans in Kansas and Missouri. When he first came to Washington, Catania worked as an intern for John Danforth, then a U.S. senator from Missouri; his boyfriend at the time worked for another Republican senator. ''People say to me, 'How can you stay a Republican,' and I just have to laugh,'' he said. ''How could I be anything but? It's a congenital part of who I am.''

Catania walked me across his office to show me a picture taken in Crawford. It is of him and Brian, standing with the president and first lady. The picture had been displayed on a side table. Now, though, he had to pull it from his bottom right desk drawer. It had been placed there, face down. ''There is a line that's been crossed,'' he said, referring to Bush's support for the federal marriage amendment. ''It isn't a line like, 'Oh, gosh, I'm sorry.' It isn't trivial. This is a grave transgression. It's hateful and it's wrong.''

Catania is not only a delegate to the Republican convention this summer in New York, but also a member of the platform committee, a select group that includes just two members from each delegation. (In addition to serving on the City Council, he works as a senior counsel for Akin Gump, a law firm. He is a member of Log Cabin's D.C. chapter, but he is not an officer of the national organization.) He no longer looks forward to the convention. When I asked him which part of the platform he'll be working on, he said, caustically: ''I don't know. Maybe the decorating committee. I'll do the color schemes.''

Catania will stay in the party, but when it comes time to cast a vote at the convention, he will step aside for an alternate rather than vote for George Bush. Nor does he plan to vote for the president in November. ''I don't support him and I don't have any intentions of voting for him, or working on his behalf,'' he said. ''I have every intention of doing just the opposite.''

So he intends to work for the election of John Kerry? This, finally, stopped Catania. He has never cast a presidential vote for a Democrat. ''I'm not sure,'' he said. ''I haven't really reached that point yet.''

Patrick Guerriero begins his mornings by reading the latest batch of e-mail, which his staff dutifully prints out and puts on his desk. He does it to steel himself against the attacks from all of those who do not understand the concept of gay Republicanism. He showed me a folder stuffed with this correspondence, a sort of greatest-hits collection. One e-mail message reads: ''Do you know any blacks who are members of the K.K.K.? Any Jews who supported the Nazis?'' As it turns out, this is a common theme. Another note concludes: ''Go black Klan members. Go Jewish Nazis. Go Gay Republicans.'' A third message says: ''I don't understand how a gay organization can continue to support a party that constantly demeans them. Please explain.''

Guerriero isn't leaving the party. He couldn't. The Log Cabin Republicans, as the name suggests, don't support Democrats. But their money and effort, this election season, will be directed inward -- toward fighting for the direction of their own party. Instead of working for Bush, they will devote themselves to fighting the amendment, which must win a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. It is considered a long shot to even get out of Congress, largely because it would need some significant support from Democrats. (And near unanimous support from Republicans, which isn't assured, either.) But Log Cabin is taking no chances. If the president backed the measure to placate the party's religious and social conservatives, then the Log Cabin Republicans want to move the party back to what it considers its true libertarian roots.

They thought they had an ally in George Bush and seem to want to hang on to that notion. Guerriero, Catania and several others made a point of telling me that the president, in his terse, five-minute remarks backing the amendment, ''didn't look comfortable'' -- as if someone had put him up to it or he didn't believe his own words. But they are politically savvy. They know enough to understand that a calculation was made, and they were judged to be politically expendable. They just think that calculation was wrong. ''You don't win elections by losing votes,'' Guerriero said. He says he believes there are more votes to be lost from the one million gay men and women who cast ballots for Bush in 2000 -- and from the moderate swing voters who may no longer believe him to be a ''compassionate conservative'' -- than there are votes to be won by ''energizing'' the base, the party's most conservative wing. (He has also seen poll numbers that show attitudes on gay marriage are generational -- younger voters are much more comfortable with it -- and argues that the party is on the wrong side of the future.)

While Log Cabin is not actively working against Bush, it is doing the next best thing: running commercials in seven swing states opposing the federal marriage amendment. The organization has raised more than $750,000 to produce and show the message, much of it from wealthy donors around the nation, and expects ultimately to exceed $1 million. The 30-second spots consist almost entirely of footage of Vice President Dick Cheney (whose daughter Mary is openly gay) during the 2000 campaign, speaking in opposition to federal regulation of marriage laws. ''The fact of the matter is we live in a free society and freedom means freedom for everybody,'' Cheney says. ''We don't get to choose -- and shouldn't be able to choose -- and say, 'You get to live free but you don't.' People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to enter into.'' Cheney never says that gay Americans should have the right to marry. Nor does the commercial, which as it ends flashes these two phrases on the screen: ''States can choose for themselves'' and ''Don't amend the Constitution.''

The Log Cabin Republicans are experienced political operatives, sharp and smart. They favor gay marriage and want all the rights that marriage confers -- survivors' benefits, hospital visits, the right as a couple to adopt children. But they are not seeking a big victory where none are possible. For now, they just want the status quo: keep the Constitution as it is. Let the states decide and, essentially, leave us alone. Those are good old conservative themes in the tradition of Goldwater and Reagan -- and what could be more Republican than that?


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