McCain Welcomes Support of Gays in GOP

Candidate meets with Log Cabin group

Marc Sandalow, Washington Bureau Chief
The San Francisco Chronicle
November 9, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(WASHINGTON, DC) – Setting himself apart from more socially conservative candidates, Arizona Sen. John McCain assured gay Republicans yesterday that he welcomes their support and would work to eliminate discrimination if elected president.

In a 30-minute meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans, McCain said he has a nondiscrimination policy in his office and made clear his desire to appeal to gays.

"I am unashamed, unembarrassed and proud to work with you," McCain told the group, according to participants in the meeting. GOP candidates have not always welcomed support from the Log Cabin Club, the nation's largest gay Republican organization. In the 1996 campaign, GOP nominee Bob Dole returned a contribution from the group before reversing himself and apologizing.

McCain has disagreements with gays on a variety of issues, including gay marriage and how to handle workplace discrimination. Yet participants sounded pleased that he had spoken against prejudice based on sexual preference.

"There is a lot of common ground on our mission inside the party," said Log Cabin spokesman Kevin Ivers. "He said, 'All my life I've had a visceral dislike for discrimination... My goal is to eliminate discrimination.'"

This year, social conservatives such as Steve Forbes, Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes are running far behind in public opinion polls. GOP front-runner George W. Bush has hardly addressed gay issues. However, gay advocates were alarmed last month when the Dallas Morning News reported that Bush told religious conservatives that he would not appoint openly gay people to his administration.

That story was at odds with comments made to the New York Times last spring, when Bush said he would not discriminate in appointments on the basis of sexual orientation. "As a general statement, if someone can do a job, and a job that he's qualified for, that person ought to be allowed to do his job," he told the Times.

The Log Cabin Club said Bush has accepted its invitation for a meeting, but has not offered a time or place.

Though gays tend to vote Democratic, Ivers estimated that a million gay Republican votes were cast in the 1998 election, enough to alter the outcome in many key states.

And perhaps more important than the gay vote itself, Ivers said that a candidate's position on gay issues may provide important clues to swing voters turned off by social conservatism.

Voters may ask themselves: "Is this candidate a scary Republican, or is this a candidate who is breaking ranks with the things that really scare me about Republicans?" Ivers said.

Democratic candidates have been far more open in their quest for gay votes. Bill Bradley advocates opening up the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. Gore has opposed that move, but has spoken repeatedly on the need for strengthened gay rights.

The Log Cabin Club, which endorsed Bob Dole in 1996, expects to issue an endorsement for president but has not yet decided whether to endorse someone in the primary.

In a candidates forum in New Hampshire two weeks ago, Republican candidates were asked their attitudes about gays. McCain said there is "no room for discrimination in the party of Lincoln." The other candidates were less supportive of gay rights.

Forbes said he would be willing to appoint someone who is openly gay to his administration, but added, "If a person wants a job to make a statement, they won't get it."

Former Reagan administration official Gary Bauer said, "Marriage is between a man and a woman, not between two men, two women or any other combination."

Keyes, a blunt radio talk-show host and a former State Department official, said, "Homosexuality is an abomination."

Added Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch: "Gays are human beings, too."