PALM SPRINGS — Leaders of the Republican Party's most prominent gay organization on Saturday grappled with whether to support President Bush's reelection and raised more money for a television advertisement opposing a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
During the annual convention of the Log Cabin Republicans, attendees watched the ad that features footage of Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, saying during a debate in the 2000 campaign that the states, not the federal government, should regulate marriage.
The 30-second spot -- the centerpiece of the campaign by the Log Cabin group to thwart the constitutional amendment that Bush has endorsed -- has aired during the last month in Sacramento and the capitals of seven other states. It has received its heaviest airplay in Washington, where the amendment would first have to clear both houses of Congress by two-thirds votes before being sent to the states for ratification.
Over the weekend, it ran in Miami, where a gathering of the considerably more socially conservative Southern Republican Leadership Conference was taking place.
So far, $800,000 has been raised to pay for the ad's broadcast, said Log Cabin communications director Patrick Sammon, including $100,000 from former Rep. Michael Huffington (R-Santa Barbara).
Huffington narrowly lost a 1994 race against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and a few years later publicly revealed he was bisexual. On Saturday, in one of his first public appearances on behalf of a gay cause, he offered another $100,000 if Log Cabin members would match his donation within 10 days.
Some of the 300 convention participants wrote checks on the spot.
The group backed Bush in his 2000 campaign and hoped to gain more clout in the GOP during his administration. But the president's support for the amendment to outlaw gay marriage has provoked Log Cabin in a way that other gay civil rights matters have not and cast doubt on whether the group would back Bush this year.
During a lively session Saturday designed to help the group's national board members decide how to proceed on the endorsement question, emotions ran high.
As conservatives, many said they believe in the institution of marriage as a force for social stability; as gays, they abhor the idea that they would be constitutionally excluded from exercising a right available to other Americans.
Log Cabin members talked about three possible paths: endorsement, no endorsement or qualified support for Bush.
Supporting presumed Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, even as a protest, is out of the question, the group's leaders said.
Kenneth Sanchez, a 26-year-old Boston attorney, summed up the dilemma: "I'm not voting for George Bush," he said. "But I'd rather eat dirt than vote for John Kerry."
The group plans to announce its endorsement decision during the Republican National Convention, which starts Aug. 31 in New York. "We are going to be a strong, inclusive, conservative voice at the convention no matter how this endorsement process goes," said Log Cabin executive director Patrick Guerriero.
Although many of the 300 Log Cabin members at the convention said they would vote for Bush despite his support for the controversial amendment, others are on the fence.
"My mind is still not made up," said Colin Gallagher, a 35-year-old San Francisco attorney. "My question is whether the president wants to be president of all the people or just the president of the religious right."
Some said they think the president is not personally anti-gay, but that he has been swayed by Karl Rove, his chief political advisor, to favor a federal prohibition of gay marriage to appeal to the GOP's conservative base.
"This is quintessential Karl Rove," said Rebecca Maestri, who works for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Washington.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for Bush, disputed such claims. "This was a decision made by the president of the United States," Diaz said Saturday, referring to the president's support of the constitutional amendment. "He made it based on principle, not on politics."
Diaz added: "Regardless of what anyone else might say, he has been consistent and clear on this issue: He strongly believes that marriage should be between a man and a woman."
Maestri was part of a group of gays known among gay Republicans as the "Austin 12" who met with Bush in April 2000 as a prelude to the Log Cabin endorsement of him that year. She said she was persuaded that Bush was friendly to gay concerns. Now, she said, "I feel like I've been bushwhacked."
Huffington said he recently appealed to Rove to abandon the push to amend the Constitution. Rove wrote back, said Huffington, that "the train is out of the station and we don't think we can get it back in."
Huffington said he would not be supporting Bush this year.
Oregon Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, described by Guerriero as "one of our best friends in the Senate," spoke at the group's gala dinner and fundraising auction Saturday night.