Bush's Openly Gay Appointments Bother Conservatives

Log Cabin Republicans say they want place in White House for their support

Susan Feeney, The Dallas Morning News
October 22, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Gov. George W. Bush has named openly homosexual gay-rights advocates to his campaign steering committees, though Christian conservatives say he recently promised that, if elected, he would not appoint such individuals to government positions.

The seeming conflict has irked not only gay Republicans, who back Mr. Bush and expect his openness to extend into the White House, but also Christian conservatives, who oppose homosexuality and are warily taking measure of the governor.

Michael Farris, who organized a Sept. 24 private session between Mr. Bush and leading Christian conservatives, said the Texas governor told them "he was not going to appoint people who were open advocates of homosexuality. These are my words, not his."

Campaign spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said the governor does not ask job candidates about their sexual orientation but has said they must "share his conservative philosophy."

Asked whether that effectively rules out homosexual gay-rights advocates, she replied, "I think so," but then added that she was not certain.

Four members of the Bush steering committee in the District of Columbia are openly gay, and a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, a national organization of gay Republicans, said "scores" of Bush state steering committee members and campaign volunteers are gay.

Ms. Tucker said Mr. Bush "hires people based on merit."

The spokeswoman said she did not know what Mr. Bush said in the 90-minute session with Christian conservatives. "It was a private meeting," she said.

Mr. Bush has fielded questions about the appointment of gays – and the Republican Party's views on the subject – virtually since he began preparing his presidential candidacy.

"It can be a very tricky line," said Mr. Farris, who is not committed in the presidential race. "It's fraught with danger on both sides. At times, you risk alienating both sides."

The latest dust-up arises from scattered reports of the Bush meeting with conservatives and Mr. Bush's recent announcements of his leadership in all 50 states and U.S. territories.

The Log Cabin Republican spokesman, Kevin Ivers, did not specify how many gay-rights advocates hold leadership positions in the Bush campaign and how many are volunteers.

In the District of Columbia, the four gay members of the steering committee include Republican Councilman-at-large David Catania, who made his sexual orientation public during his campaign, and Carl Schmid, a board member for the Human Rights Campaign, a leading national gay-rights advocacy group.

Mr. Ivers said he personally knows others in New York and California.

"We are really concerned that the Republicans will nominate a Clinton-style personality . . . who is going to be saying different things to different audiences," Mr. Ivers said.

He added, "What's the point of working your heart and soul out if, at the end of it, you're not welcome to work for the administration?"

Mr. Farris, president of the Home School Legal Defense Association, said the campaign appointment of openly gay activists was "not happy news for me."

But appointments to a Bush campaign leadership position are different from appointments to government jobs that would help set policy, he said. Mr. Farris pointed to what Mr. Bush told his group, named The Madison Project.

"What he said was that he was not going to appoint people who were open advocates of homosexuality," Mr. Farris said. "These are my words, not his: He was not going to appoint a person who is flamboyantly not only promoting his lifestyle as a homosexual, but advocating his position as well."

Mr. Farris said Mr. Bush also made clear that he would not fire anyone whom he later found out to be gay. Other participants, including former Colorado Sen. William Armstrong, came away with similar impressions of Mr. Bush's remarks, according to two published reports.

Mr. Schmid, a member of the Bush District of Columbia steering committee who works part-time for Mr. Catania, applauded the Bush campaign's appointment of openly homosexual gay-rights advocates.

"I think it shows progress," he said.

But if reports of the governor's meeting with conservatives are correct, Mr. Schmid said, "I'm disappointed. I'd feel it was inconsistent."

Gay Republicans had cheered Mr. Bush's comments to The New York Times published April 9, at the time of President Clinton's nomination of San Francisco philanthropist James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg.

Many conservatives, including some in the U.S. Senate, opposed the move, citing Mr. Hormel's homosexuality.

Mr. Bush, in The Times interview, would not comment on Mr. Hormel specifically. But when asked whether an ambassador should be disqualified on the basis of sexual orientation, Mr. Bush replied:

"As a general statement, if someone can do a job, and a job that he's qualified for, that person, that person ought to be allowed to do his job."