YBOR CITY, Fla. — Inside the Honey Pot club on Ybor City's main drag Tuesday, workers prepared to open its doors to one of the Republican National Convention's hottest parties — and its most fabulous — as gay conservatives celebrate what they see as an evolving era of openness.
Christopher Barron, the co-founder of party sponsor GOProud, said Homocon 2012 merges what he sees are the mutual interests of gay Republicans and the movement conservatives, shining a spotlight on the future where younger attitudes will undoubtedly prevail.
"We've seen a lot of progress on the inclusiveness," Mr. Barron said. "There is no question that there is a huge generational component to this. Young people today, whether liberal or conservative, know people who are gay and lesbian. They grew up with that. And that experience changes how they view issues and how they view the world."
How those views merge within the current ranks of the Republican Party is a different story.
Religious conservatives still control the party platform, meaning support for gay marriage is not in the picture this year for the GOP, even as Democrats seek to solidify their edge among younger voters by adding that and other gay issues to their platform.
However, a focus on the economy may be enough to win over a substantial segment of the gay population.
A poll taken last week by Harris Interactive of more than 1,000 voters who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender found that nearly one-third dubbed the economy the nation's most pressing issues with only 6 percent calling same-sex marriage most important.
"We want folks to know that gay people are just like every other type of person in the country who cares about jobs and the economy. It's the No. 1 issue facing any American," Mr. Barron said.
Mr. Barron's point about a new era can be seen among social and religious conservatives, who now make a point of saying they are not anti-gay even as they back the platform on marriage.
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council called this year's GOP platform on marriage a stronger one than that of previous campaigns and said it is not an indication of hatred of gays.
"It's an issue of public policy so you can't correlate — they're not parallel issues," he said. "To take a stand on marriage because of its social benefit does not say you dislike gays, that's not what the party is saying and that's not what we're saying."
The platform language "recognizes the economic and social benefits of marriage. So it's not just a statement of marriage; it backs up the statement with a rationale of why it's important. In particular, the focus on the economic aspects of marriage is an outreach to libertarian voters," he said.
Other prominent conservatives said that while they will not change their stand of marriage, they agree that tolerance of gay people remains important and is not contradicted by the marriage platform.
"A lot of them are very fine Americans," Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schalfly said. "Most of us have gay friends ... but we don't believe in any marriage except marriage of a man and a woman and that should be the stable part of our society. That's the only way you get limited government is to have the family as the initial stable part of society."
Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed offered his "great respect" for gay voters and their political participation and organization but defended traditional marriage. He noted his view was shared by not only the GOP presidential ticket but also the "mainstream" of America, including President Obama until a few months ago.
"We just believe a marriage should be between a man and a woman. And that was my position, it was Mitt Romney's position, Paul Ryan's position, Bill Clinton's position and until a few months ago it was Barack Obama's position. So if that view is out of the mainstream, that means Barack Obama was out of the mainstream when he ran in '08."
For his part, Mr. Barron of GOProud dismissed the platform as "completely and totally meaningless" and argued, as the Harris Poll suggested, that social issues aren't the most pressing ones.
"Here's the reality: The platforms have no rights, no rule of law. They are routinely dismissed by candidates within hours of ink drying on them," Mr. Barron said. "At the end of the day what matters is the position and policies of candidates, not a platform."
His group has endorsed the Romney-Ryan ticket and he called upon the Log Cabin Republicans, which have yet to follow suit, to do the same: "It would behoove them to act."
Gay conservatives, he argued, are focused on issues important to everyone and focused on changing the occupant of the White House.
"The conservative movement is committed to traditional values of limiting government, of free-market capitalism, of a strong national defense. That is going to be the future of our party," he said.
• Paige Winfield Cunningham contributed to this report.
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