4:48pm

Thu February 3, 2011
Politics

Groups Skip Conservative Gathering Over Gay Sponsor

Each year, Washington is home to the nation's largest annual gathering of conservatives — the Conservative Political Action Conference, known simply as CPAC.

This year's event is set for next week, but it is being boycotted by some high-profile groups. The reason: GOProud, a two-year-old group that represents gay conservatives, is on the list of co-sponsors — alongside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, the National Rifle Association, Americans for Tax Reform and more than a hundred others.

GOProud's Jimmy LaSalvia says his group has a strong conservative record. "I'd put our conservative credentials up against anyone," he says.

LaSalvia says GOProud is for limited government, individual liberty, promoting economic growth through free-market principles and strong national defense. He describes himself as pro-life on abortion. But on the issue of same-sex marriage, GOProud is opposed to any federal ban and says the issue should be left to individual states to decide.

That's very much a minority opinion among conservatives, but CPAC founder David Keene of the American Conservative Union says that's not a reason to keep GOProud out as a sponsor.

"CPAC has always been open to every wing of the movement," Keene says. "We've got groups here that disagree with each other very strongly on all kinds of issues — from taxation to immigration to social issues to trade. This is the one time of the year where all of these various groups get together."

But GOProud's role has led some conservative groups that focus on social issues to boycott the event — including Lynchburg, Va.-based Liberty Counsel, which in the past has been a co-sponsor of the event.

"One co-sponsor, in our view, should not undermine the views of another co-sponsor," says the group's chairman, Mathew Staver, who is also the dean of the law school at Liberty University. "We will certainly encourage our students to attend from Liberty University, but we're not going to have our name as a co-sponsor along with an organization that actually works to undermine conservative values — in this case, marriage."

Another group that won't be there is the Family Research Council, which says it has been concerned for years that CPAC has pushed social and cultural issues into the background.

"It's more that those in charge ... are looking for ways to squeeze out social conservatives from the movement, and GOProud is just another example of them trying to do that," says Tom McClusky, the group's vice president.

GOProud's LaSalvia, meanwhile, charges that those who have chosen not to participate in CPAC are not actually doing so because of a specific disagreement on the issues. He says it's about who GOProud represents.

"They're boycotting because we're gay," he says. "It's not just that they may disagree on one issue or two issues. ... Our position on marriage is exactly the same as former Vice President Dick Cheney's, who was named conservative of the year last year."

CPAC organizers say they don't expect the boycott to be a major topic at the conference. It will draw 10,000 attendees and feature dozens of speeches, including many by potential Republican presidential candidates.

But polls do show public attitudes on gay rights evolving. And while it may be a first to have a gay group sponsor a major national conservative meeting, it certainly isn't the last time conservatives or Republican candidates will have to reckon with these issues. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.