WASHINGTON - Angered by President Bush's endorsement of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely the union of a man and a woman, gay conservatives are laying the groundwork for a campaign against the proposal in swing states, such as Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Ohio, that are critical to the president's re-election.
Log Cabin Republicans, the largest GOP organization on gay issues, is exploring options from grass-roots voter mobilization efforts to television and radio ads - all designed to persuade fellow conservatives, as well as moderates and independents, that the White House is "playing politics" with the Constitution.
"A constitutional amendment is a call to arms for gay conservatives," said Patrick Guerriero, executive director of the group, which is planning its annual convention in Palm Springs, Calif., in April. "A lot of gay conservatives who have been extraordinarily loyal will not remain silent. This is a breach."
In the past few months, Guerriero has visited Missouri and Ohio to assess the political climate and talk to activists. In the past year he has traveled to 26 states and 87 cities to prepare for the largest presence ever of gay conservatives and their allies at the Republican National Convention, which will be in New York this year.
He said that since Bush's announcement Tuesday embracing the amendment proposed by Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave, a Colorado Republican, anger among gay conservatives is boiling over.
"The feeling is, if you want a cultural war, you'll get it," he said last week. "We don't want history to record that we stood silent when our president and our party tried to write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution."
Some gay conservatives who work in the Bush administration or who hold political office say they feel betrayed and believe the White House has miscalculated the political fallout.
Recalling the 2000 campaign, when Bush met with gay activists and vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney - whose daughter is a lesbian - talked of leaving this issue to the states, some gay Republicans are vowing to vote Democratic, while others are pledging to stay in the party and fight.
For the White House, the issue of same-sex marriage is a dicey political issue, pitting key constituencies - evangelical Christians and social conservatives - against an activist group of gay Republicans and their allies. In exit polls from the 2000 election, about 4 million Americans identified themselves as gay or lesbian; of those, about a quarter said they voted for Bush. Gay Republicans say, however, that it is not only their support Bush is risking, but that of their families, friends and like-minded conservatives.
"The day word came out that he was going to support a constitutional amendment, my phone was ringing off the hook, with straight Republican friends saying, 'He just lost my vote,'" said Rebecca Maestri, a lesbian activist who works on Iraqi redevelopment issues for the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Until now, many gay Republicans had expressed satisfaction with Bush's performance. On taking office in 2001, Bush did not rescind several executive orders issued by President Bill Clinton, including one that bars employment discrimination against gays and lesbians in the federal government, despite pressure from social conservatives. He appointed gays and lesbians to several prominent and many midlevel positions in his administration. And he talked of "compassionate conservatism" - which included a more tolerant approach to gay issues.
But since the Supreme Court overturned a Texas sodomy law in November, evangelical Christians have been pressing the administration to intervene. In his State of the Union address in January, Bush vowed to "defend the sanctity of marriage" against judges who "insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people."
That speech was the final straw for Carl Schmid, a Washington consultant who in 2000 helped Bush beat back a strong primary challenge by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, among gay voters.
"I will vote for him, but I cannot vocally support him," said Schmid, who said he told Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign Chairman Marc Racicot this month that the White House was going to be on "the wrong side of history. America has changed. I don't know why he's so beholden to a minority."
Part of the lament for many gay and lesbian conservatives is that they support Bush on most policy issues. "Most of us are Republicans for economic and ideological reasons," said Steve Gunderson, a former congressman from Wisconsin who now heads the Washington office of the Greystone Group, a communications and consulting firm.
"What the president failed to do is recognize that there is real discrimination and real problems for those of us in long-term relationships."
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.