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CPAC attendance raises gay issue

Conservatives at crossroad

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some of the biggest names in social conservatism are opting out of the upcoming high-profile Conservative Political Action Conference in response to what they see as the growing marginalization of social issues, culminating in the participation of GOProud, a gay-rights Republican group.

The Family Research Council and Concerned Women of America are the latest organizations to announce that they will refuse to attend the February conference, which is put on by the American Conservative Union and widely viewed as the premier conservative gathering of the new year.

"We have issues with GOProud," said CWA President Penny Nance. "I understand [ACU officials] want to be inclusive and you never want to appear to be unkind, but this is not about personalities, it's about issues. They can't embrace gay-rights issues and not run counter to social issues."

Tom McClusky, senior vice president for FRC Action, said that FRC officials had decided not to participate in the last conference because of a lack of attention to social issues, but that the inclusion of GOProud in February's conference cemented the decision.

"CPAC thinks social conservatism is the red-headed stepchild they don't want to have around," he said. "We just decided we had had it. It's not our job to keep CPAC conservative or the ACU conservative."

This CPAC event looks once again to be a star-studded who's-who of the American conservative movement. Confirmed speakers include a slew of potential presidential hopefuls, including Haley Barbour, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and John Thune. The group is also expected to hold the first presidential straw poll of the 2012 Republican primary election.

But the list of those refusing to attend is also formidable. So far, it also includes the American Principles Project, which launched a boycott of the event in November, the Center for Military Readiness, the Liberty Council, and the National Organization for Marriage.

Andy Blom, APP executive director, said that socially conservative politicians who do decide to attend CPAC "will have to answer hard questions in the future. … A lot of Republican elites are running away from social issues, and as social conservatives, we have to draw a line in the sand."

GOProud participated in the last conference, but at the time it was only six months old and few within the movement were familiar with it. This time, the group has once again signed up as a "participating organization," meaning that it will be involved in planning the meetings.

The ACU could not be reached for comment Wednesday because the group has taken the week off for the holidays, according to a voice message at its Washington headquarters.

Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, said he hoped that social conservatives boycotting the event would change their minds and attend.

"It's a very important event, and it's very important for all conservatives to be there, including social conservatives," Mr. LaSalvia said. "Maybe there are single-issue organizations that don't want to be there, but we're glad to be there."

Social conservatives worry that adding gay-rights groups to the fold will weaken the movement. They cite former President Ronald Reagan's three pillars of conservatism — social, economic and national defense — as the foundation of the Republican Party and basis of its recent electoral gains.

Most of those associated with the "tea party" movement describe themselves as both economic and social conservatives. Mrs. Nance cited a survey showing that 82 percent of tea party members oppose same-sex marriage.

"We are economic conservatives and we believe those issues go hand in hand with social issues," she said.

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