You'd think with all the Republican support these days for same-sex marriage, that GOP stood for Gay Old Party.
After Kenneth Mehlman, George W. Bush's 2004 campaign manager, came out as gay last month, he seemed to get way more grief from Democrats -- who said a gay man would have to be a hypocrite to work to get a conservative Republican elected president -- than moderate members of his own party, who basically shrugged and said: ``Whatever.''
``In gay organizations and gay circles, most people don't understand how somebody can be gay and Republican,'' said Holland & Knight litigator Robert Watson, past president of the gay Log Cabin Republicans club of Miami. ``It's been more difficult [for me] to come out as Republican in gay circles than as gay in Republican circles.''
The Mehlman episode has underscored the steadily shifting tides in the politics of sexual identity.
John McCain's 2008 campaign manager Steve Schmidt last week told Huffington Post ``there is a strong conservative case to be made in favor of gay marriage.''
Later this month, Schmidt and a cadre of Republican stalwarts (plus a few well-known Democrats) will hold a $5,000-a-person fundraiser to help pay legal fees for the team that successfully overturned California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8.
And according to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll in August, nearly half of all Americans (49 percent; up five percentage points from 2009) think the Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry.
Watson says Mehlman's surprise announcement Aug. 25 in The Atlantic ``is a positive overall.''
``It will change people's minds that they know somebody they previously respected who came out as gay,'' Watson said.
The day Mehlman came out, national Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper said: ``Log Cabin Republicans is very supportive and appreciative of Ken's coming out. Being gay and being conservative are not mutually exclusive.''
Benjamin Bullard, president and founder of the gay conservative Sunshine Republicans club in Fort Lauderdale, agrees Mehlman will serve as an important role model.
``He's a very powerful voice within the Republican Party,'' Bullard said. ``I think he'll gain ground. He's finally being true to himself. Once he opens up completely and speaks completely about himself, people will respect him rather than hiding in the closet.''
Bullard said that as a gay Republican, Mehlman ``is going to be criticized and belittled by the other side for being who he is. They can't accept the fact that our party is inclusive.''
Watson calls himself ``a minority among Republicans and a minority with gays'' and says he often takes verbal abuse for his political affiliation.
``Those kinds of comments are based on a mistaken assumption that all Republicans are social conservatives or on the far right,'' Watson said. ``But in time, people are realizing that there are moderate Republicans taking positions on gay issues.''
On Sept. 22, Mehlman, Schmidt, Mary Cheney (former Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter), and other high-level politicians will hold a $10,000-a-couple reception in New York City to raise money for the legal team that successfully argued a federal court overturn of California's Proposition 8.
The unlikely pair who won the case: former legal adversaries David Boies, who represented Democratic Vice President Al Gore at the Supreme Court in the 2000 presidential recount, and Ted Olson -- who successfully argued the case for Republican candidate George W. Bush.