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By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

In a historic move, the California Republican Party on Sunday officially recognized a gay GOP group.

The Log Cabin Republicans, a 38-year-old organization that had unsuccessfully sought a charter from the state party several times in the past, received the formal imprimatur on a 861-293 vote at the party’s biannual convention in Sacramento.

It is among the first gay groups officially sanctioned by a state Republican Party.

Brandon Gesecki, a delegate from Carmel who supported the effort, said the vote showed how much the party in California has changed in recent years.

“It would have been the complete opposite 15 years ago,” said Gesecki, who also turned in a proxy vote from former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado supporting the recognition. “The fringe does not control the party anymore. We truly are a big tent once again.”

Charles Moran, chairman of the Log Cabin California chapter, was visibly emotional after Sunday’s vote.

“I’m personally overwhelmed,” he said, noting that he got his start in politics as a staffer at the state party in 1999. “This is the culmination of a 15-year journey for me.”

The move comes as attitudes toward homosexuality and same-sex marriage have shifted across the United States. A February CNN poll found 42 percent of Republicans favored same-sex marriage, a sharp increase from previous polls.

Log Cabin was founded in California 38 years ago and was the first gay GOP group in the country. It and other groups have sparred with Republican officials and conservative leaders over the years, and received varying levels of acceptance.

The national Log Cabin group was once again turned down as a sponsor for last week’s Conservative Political Action Committee gathering in Maryland, but its executive director was invited to speak on a panel. In Texas last year, two gay Republican groups were barred from having a booth at a state party convention.

Tolerance in California has been greater. Last year, GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari marched in a San Diego gay-pride parade, the first statewide Republican candidate to do so. Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, who is considering a run for U.S. Senate, supports same-sex marriage. The Log Cabin Luau, at which attendees don rainbow-colored leis and sip Mai Tais, is among the best-attended parties at state GOP conventions.

Moran and his supporters had cited the work that his members did in several competitive election contests last year to argue that the group deserves a party charter.

“We’ve earned our street cred,” Moran said Saturday.

The group worked for two years to make sure its application aligned with party bylaws.

“A lot of us knew we were Republican before we knew we were gay, so this is home for us,” he said.

With the recognition, “the left will not be able to say to us anymore, ‘The Republican Party doesn’t want you.’ ”

The group’s effort received support from longtime GOP leaders, including national committee member Shawn Steel, former state party chairman Bob Naylor and Assemblyman Scott Wilk.

“The Log Cabin Republicans have given their time, money and resources to this party time and time again, and we have given them nothing in return,” said Nathan Miller, chairman of the California Young Republican Federation, a group of young professionals that is chartered by the state party. “This vote is not about orientation, it’s about participation.”

Opposition came from social conservatives, who said the move violated the party’s values.

Andrew Levy, a delegate from Sacramento, said the decision to grant the recognition was an affront to his Jewish faith.

“People supported the Republican Party because they’re strong on family values,” Levy said, adding that the embrace of the gay group undermined his trust in the GOP.

John Briscoe, president of the socially conservative California Republican Assembly, pointed to Log Cabin’s support of same-sex marriage.

“I have a hard time understanding how we’re going to charter an organization that’s in opposition to our platform,” he said during the debate.

The party’s official platform says homosexuality is unacceptable.

“We believe public policy and education should not be exploited to present or teach homosexuality as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle. We oppose same-sex partner benefits, child custody, and adoption,” the platform says.

Some opponents said Log Cabin’s proposal was sneaked onto the convention agenda without notice, and that the group violates the party’s by-laws, which forbid the recognition of organizations focused on “lifestyle preferences.”

“The only thing I ask is this body stand on the rules we’ve supported for two decades that say there is a process to change the rules and the bylaws,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove repeatedly pleaded during the hearing.

State party chairman Jim Brulte replied that he had followed the rules — by forwarding the group’s application to the volunteer organizations committee, which on Saturday voted to unanimously send the proposal to the floor for a vote.

The Sunday morning debate and vote count took nearly an hour. Five people were allowed to testify in support and five in opposition. Though the debate was largely civil, there were a few testy outbursts, mostly on points of order, prompting Brulte to admonish at one point: “Everyone, take a deep breath.”

Photo: John Carrel via Flickr

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