Some prominent right-wing groups say they will not attend a major Republican gathering in Washington next month, objecting to the presence of gay groups and other organizations whose aims they say are incompatible with conservatism.
An estimated 10,000 people are expected to attend the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, to hear aspiring presidential candidates and vote in one of the first straw polls of the 2012 cycle.
Among the missing will be the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group and once a sponsor of CPAC; the Heritage Foundation; and the American Family Assn., which opposes same-sex marriage.
The Family Research Council has been disenchanted for several years with CPAC, said Tom McClusky, senior vice president of the group's legislative arm. Among its complaints: A new gay conservative group has been invited for the second year in a row, and CPAC has refused to schedule a panel about traditional marriage.
"Conservatives and homosexuals cannot coexist in a movement predicated on social values," wrote the group's president, Tony Perkins, in an e-mail to supporters. "Organizations whose whole reason for existence is to promote the forced public affirmation of homosexual conduct should not be welcomed at CPAC."
A spokesman for the Heritage Foundation said his group thinks CPAC has strayed from its principles.
"We want to promote economic freedom, a strong national defense and social conservativism. We think these policies are indivisible," said Mike Gonzales, the think tank's vice president for communications. "It's not a boutique. You can't pick one and not the other."
Some of CPAC's critics, including potential presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, have complained that the conference has become laden with groups more libertarian than Republican, or out of sync with the conservative agenda — especially a group of gay conservatives called GOProud. Critics also say CPAC is no place for groups promoting legalized marijuana and Internet gambling, or the American Civil Liberties Union.
CPAC spokeswoman Lisa DiPasquale said she is disappointed some groups have pulled out. "We wish there were more socially conservative groups there, but there will be many," she said. "Our goal is to make the conference good for our attendees."
The conference's big draw is its lineup of political heavy hitters, many of whom are expected to seek the 2012 GOP nomination. The American Conservative Union, which bills itself as the country's oldest grass-roots conservative organization, sponsors the event.
DiPasquale said the group has received more requests from would-be speakers, many of them newly elected House and Senate Republicans, than it will be able to schedule.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has not yet confirmed whether she will attend the three-day conference, which begins Feb. 10.
"Most conservatives don't care that we're gay," said Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud, which was founded by former staffers of the Log Cabin Republicans, another gay conservative group. "We felt we wanted to work on a broader conservative agenda."
He said GOProud, which has 10,000 members, has worked on healthcare reform and pushed an amendment to last year's hate crimes bill, introduced by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), that would have allowed states to recognize one another's concealed-weapons laws. "We said if you really want to prevent violent crime, you should enable folks to defend themselves," LaSalvia said.
Some believe the issue of whether groups supporting gay marriage should be represented at CPAC has been stoked by frequent, outraged stories on WorldNetDaily, a conservative website run by Joseph Farah that has been a prime force in the movement that claims President Obama was born abroad.
Conservative Internet entrepreneur Andrew Breitbart, who has clashed with Farah over the "birther" movement, defended the inclusion of gay conservatives at CPAC.
"The point is to welcome people into the 'big tent,' " Breitbart said Friday. Last week, Breitbart tweeted that he planned to throw a party for gay conservatives at CPAC.
"I'm working on getting a venue," he said. "The first annual Roy Cohn CPAC Breitbart Homocon Welcoming 80's Extravaganza. I'm thinking of DJ-ing."