Prominent GOP lobbyists, activists and Members of Congress will attend or lend their names to two big gay rights events tonight, including one co-hosted by Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chairman and George W. Bush campaign manager who recently announced he was gay.
In his first gay rights political event since going public with his sexual orientation, Mehlman is hosting a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which is spearheading the court battle for gay marriage.
The cocktail reception in New York City also features Ted Olson, one of the two lawyers who successfully argued the case before a federal judge in California to overturn the states ban on gay marriage. Olson was solicitor general under Bush.
The fundraiser has also drawn a bipartisan host list that includes Mary Cheney the openly gay daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney and Steve Schmidt, a senior presidential campaign adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The list also has several high-level Republican lobbyists, including AT&Ts Jim Cicconi and former staffers to one-time Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who encouraged a state anti-gay-marriage referendum in 2004 to drive up conservative turnout in the presidential race.
At the same time as the New York event, the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group, will hold its national dinner in Washington, D.C. Among those attending the Log Cabin dinner or cocktail reception at the Capitol Hill Club are the anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) had been scheduled to attend the Log Cabin dinner but is now not expected because of a House Republican caucus meeting that evening.
To some observers, tonights events are indicative of a growing change in attitude among at least some in the Republican Party who for years were wary of having their names attached to gay rights events, fearing that it would alienate the partys base.
There is a general cultural shift, said R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, who worked in the Bush administration. Being conservative and gay are not mutually exclusive.
The participation by Republicans in these events, however, does not signal a wholesale change in party stands on gay issues. GOP Senators were key to blocking a defense bill Tuesday that included a repeal of the militarys dont ask, dont tell policy.
In voting to oppose opening debate on the military bill, Cornyn suggested Democratic leaders were trying to score election-year points with gay rights and other liberal groups. But the Texas Republican has also refused to accede to a demand by Tony Perkins, the president of the socially conservative Family Research Council, to withdraw from tonights Log Cabin reception.
Last week, Perkins wrote to the Texas Senator that the Log Cabin Republicans had been instrumental in pushing legal challenges to bans on gay marriage and added that it is deeply troubling to me that you would lend your credibility to this organization.