ST. PAUL (Reuters) - The Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s bid for the presidency on Tuesday, four years after the gay Republican group refused to back President George W. Bush’s bid for reelection.
The endorsement may boost McCain’s reputation as a maverick who reaches across partisan lines, but it may not go down well with his party’s conservative Christian base.
“Sen. McCain is no George Bush when it comes to gay issues. We are much more optimistic and enthusiastic about Sen. McCain,” Patrick Sammon, the group’s president, told Reuters.
The 20,000-member group backed Bush in 2000, but did not endorse him in 2004 when the Republican Party used opposition to gay marriage as a “wedge” issue to galvanize evangelical Christian voters.
But the group appreciates McCain’s opposition to a failed attempt to enact a federal ban on gay marriage -- a position that angered many conservative evangelical leaders.
“Sen. McCain stood with us. Now we stand with him ... Sen. McCain showed courage by bucking his own party’s leadership and the president -- twice voting against the amendment,” the Log Cabin Republicans said.
The group said it would take a “wait and see approach” regarding McCain’s choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate.
“We have a wait and see approach with Gov. Palin about her views on gay issues,” Sammon said.
Jimmy LaSalvia, the group’s director of programs and policy, said there were encouraging signs.
“We don’t know that much about her ... In her public statements she has said that she has gay friends and that she doesn’t judge,” he said.
Palin is a conservative Christian who has excited that wing of the Republican Party mostly because of her strong opposition to abortion rights.
Sammon said the organization was pleased that McCain’s campaign was not inflaming passions around the issue of gay marriage. Proposals to ban same-sex unions will be on the ballot during the November 4 election in California and Florida.
The group said there were some two dozen openly gay delegates at the convention in St. Paul.
Being openly gay is not easy in a party with a strong base of evangelical Christians who read the Bible as the literal word of God and believe there are biblical sanctions against homosexuality.
Members of the Log Cabin Republicans say they stick with the party because of core principles such as fiscal conservatism and support for a strong national defense. Little polling has been done on the topic, but most gay voters favor the Democratic Party.
Editing by Patricia Zengerle