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The Mark Foley scandal may be bad news for the Republican Party, but for the GOP’s socially conservative, politically powerful base, the saga may also provide a clue to one of its biggest frustrations: Despite an election in 2004 that added several rock-ribbed social conservatives to the Senate�and many more to the House�none of the hot-button priorities that fuel the conservative movement have become law. Among other things, the story has raised the profile of an otherwise very quiet minority: gay Republican members of Congress and gay Republican congressional staff. And it didn’t take Tony Perkins, the telegenic president of the Family Research Council, more than a couple of days to use that to his advantage. “Has the social agenda of the GOP been stalled by homosexual members and/or staffers?” Perkins wondered in an Oct. 2 statement issued in response to the Foley story. The group’s chief lobbyist, Tom McClusky, elaborates on that idea in an interview with Legal Times. “In this Congress, there was no pro-life legislation,” he says. “There was no �partial birth’ legislation and very little advancement on the marriage issue,” he adds, referring to legislation that would outlaw so-called partial-birth abortions and a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union between a man and a woman. “What is holding up the social agenda?” says McClusky. “That’s what we’re asking.” McClusky adds that the problem is not gay staffers per se. Rather, the issue is whether Republican members of Congress might have staff who are not carrying out their bosses’ wishes. “Personnel is policy,” he notes. “I don’t care about a staffer’s sexual preference.” The question, he says, “is whether members are being poorly served by their staff. If there were ever specific examples we could find of staffers blocking pro-family legislation, then we would certainly bring it to a member’s attention. But calling for an all-out witch hunt,” adds McClusky, “we wouldn’t do that.” There remains, however, a real (and not illogical) sense among hard-core social conservatives that gay Republican staffers do have problems promoting a legislative agenda that is inimical to their personal lives. “It seems like with liberals in general, and especially in the militant gay rights community, that hypocrisy is the worst of sins,” notes Jessica Echard, the executive director of the conservative Eagle Forum. “And if there are Republican gay staffers or members of Congress, the fact that they are helping to advance an agenda detrimental to the gay lifestyle would be the worst of sins.” And although it’s unlikely there would be a concerted effort to oust gay GOP staffers, there will clearly be short-term consequences on Capitol Hill: At the very least, gay Republicans may not be promoted as readily as before. “They’ll lower the glass ceiling placed on these guys,” says Eric Johnson, who is openly gay and the chief of staff to Florida Democrat Rep. Robert Wexler. “Today, would [Rep.] Tom Reynolds hire an openly gay guy?” Foley’s former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, who is Republican and is openly gay, was the chief of staff for Reynolds (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, before he resigned his post on Oct. 4. It was Fordham who told the House Ethics Committee last week that he warned Scott Palmer, the powerful chief of staff to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), about Foley’s page problem as long ago as 2003, something Palmer denies. Gay staffers, in fact, have less legal protection than other protected classes in the District of Columbia. Under the Congressional Accountability Act, which governs employment in congressional offices, discrimination based on sexual orientation is not specifically prohibited. The scandal has also made public a normally unspoken antagonism between gay congressional staffers who are Democrats�and generally open about their sexual orientation�and gay Republican staffers who may have more reason to keep their identity private. Gay Republicans often mention their ideological sympathy for such Republican ideals as lower taxes and a smaller government, ideals they say outweigh any problems they may have with a political agenda that opposes gay marriage and hate-crimes legislation. But some gay Democrats, not surprisingly, find that hypocritical. “When you’re in jail on a sodomy charge or they take away your partner’s health benefits, who cares about tax policy?” notes George Shevlin, the Democratic staff director of the Committee on House Administration, who is openly gay. Adds Johnson: “I know a lot of these guys really well. And I like a lot of them personally. “But gay Republican staffers are not working for people who are going to be good for them, and they’ll be thrown under the bus at a moment’s notice when it’s not convenient for them. Now they’re seeing what I’ve always thought.” Patrick Sammon, executive vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay Republicans with some 20,000 members, says the issue is not one of hypocrisy�rather, there are real and practical reasons for gay people not to abandon the party of Lincoln. “Equality will be impossible to achieve without Republican votes, period,” he says. “Every key piece of civil rights legislation has required votes from both parties. How can you get those votes? You either get mad at the way the party is now, or you work from the inside to change it,” Sammon says. “It’s a good thing for more people to understand that there are good loyal Republicans who are gay and lesbian who are asking to advance the party’s priorities, while at the same time, to understand that the party isn’t where it needs to be.”
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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