How Log Cabin Republicans Keep Out Of The Closet

This weekend, the Log Cabin Republicans are holding their annual convention in Dallas, Texas. The group bills itself as the nation's only organization of Republicans that supports gay and lesbian rights. Guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with the group's executive director, R. Clarke Cooper.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This weekend, the Log Cabin Republicans are holding their annual convention in Dallas, Texas. The group bills itself as the nation's only organization of Republicans which supports gay and lesbian rights. The group fought to end the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy and is working in support of same-sex marriage legislation. Those efforts, of course, put them at odds with most Republicans in the House and Senate.

We're joined by R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. He is at NPR member station KERA in Dallas. Welcome to the program.

Mr. R. CLARKE COOPER (Executive Director, Log Cabin Republicans): Thank you, Linda. Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Good morning. Your group works for gay and lesbian rights within a Republican caucus that clearly does not support your goals. How do you do that?

Mr. COOPER: Well, there are some who do. And Log Cabin has a decades-long history. We are proud members of the Republican Party who believe inclusion wins. And so this isn't a new mission. We work to build a stronger, more inclusive Republican Party but at the same time recognizing that gay and lesbian Americans are also a part of the fabric, or a part of civil society that we aren't anathema to being conservative.

So, one can be gay and advocate for tax reform and smaller government. One can be gay and also support a strong national defense. They're not mutually exclusive. Or one can be gay or lesbian and be a person of faith.

WERTHEIMER: It is still true, though, that John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, has said that he will continue to support the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The Obama administration has said it will no longer defend that law, but you supported Speaker Boehner's decision. Why?

Mr. COOPER: Well, we didn't support defending DOMA. What we said was - and this is where nuance gets, you know, cloudy for some - was that of the options that were out there, having it go to a bipartisan House general counsel versus it going to the floor, it could have been much worse. What Boehner did do is he prevented a number of resolutions going to the floor, which would have turned up the vitriol and the rhetoric on this issue.

So, you know, it is indefensible. There is nothing to defend with this. But as I have said before, let's fight the law and not the lawyer.

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you this: I understand the New York chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans is working with the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, to pass same-sex marriage legislation. Are you finding that in this period it's more effective to work at the state level or somehow more appropriate to work at the state level on some of these issues?

Mr. COOPER: Well, this is - these are the dual tracks. We have 42 chapters across the United States that not only work on getting people elected - not only just gay and lesbian Republicans, pro-equality Republicans - but to work on initiatives at a state level, be it a ballot initiative or be it legislation.

WERTHEIMER: But in this case, you were working with the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo. I assume you hear this question often: Since these are very important issues for you, why if you find that the Democrats are more accepting, why don't you just switch over?

Mr. COOPER: Ah, that's a question that all Log Cabin Republicans get. And the one thing is the huge delta or difference, and not only for me personally but for my fellow gay and lesbian Republicans, is that we don't see eye-to-eye with most Democrats or of any Democrats on things like government spending, issues around national defense, on U.S. foreign policy, on tax reforms.

So, we have said because we're gay we should not be precluded from the broader conservative movement. Fortunately, in 2011, there are more of those in the conservative movement who have said, yes, you're right. You shouldn't be precluded; you should be included. And in fact, if anything, it makes the conservative movement stronger, more credible.

WERTHEIMER: R. Clarke Cooper is the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a group which advocates for gay and lesbian issues. He joined us from member station KERA in Dallas. Thank you very much.

Mr. COOPER: Thank you, Linda.

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