Social Conservatives Wrestle with Attending CPAC over Gay Group

Family Research Council denies that it is boycotting this week's 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference because Republican gay rights group GOProud is a co-sponsor of the event.

In a Wednesday interview on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," FRC president Tony Perkins pointed out that the pro-family organization hasn't participated in CPAC for the past three years. He refuted the allegation that he and the Council are anti-gay and are avoiding the conference because of GOProud, a national organization representing gay conservatives.

CPAC began Thursday in Washington, D.C., and will continue until Saturday. The conference is scheduled to feature many prominent conservative and Tea Party speakers, such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and author and commentator Ann Coulter.

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This year, social conservative groups such as National Organization for Marriage, the Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America and FRC Action have announced they will not attend the conference.

"We think their (GOProud) role here is entirely inappropriate," said Andresen Blom, the executive director of the American Principles Project, the group leading the boycott of this year's CPAC.

But Perkins insisted Wednesday that the FRC will be absent this year – as it has in recent years – because of CPAC's increasingly left-leaning agenda. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee made a similar claim when he skipped last year's conference. Huckabee will not attend again this year.

GOProud's co-founder and chairman, Christopher Barron, told Mitchell during the MSNBC broadcast that "the reason why they aren't participating has nothing to do with policy at all, it's because we happen to be gay."

Perkins denied Barron's claim, but he also said, "As a co-sponsor, they are a part of setting the agenda ... It's hard to grasp the idea that those who are working on redefining marriage can sit at the same table and discuss strategy with those who are trying to promote and protect traditional marriage."

Barron replied, "GOProud doesn't have a position on marriage beyond believing that marriage ought to be decided by the states."

Marriage between a man and a woman and the protection of the unborn have long been foundational values for social conservatives. However, some political leaders have urged conservatives to move beyond those hot-button issues.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels asked conservatives to declare a "truce" on social issues in order to take on the national debt.

"The future of the American experiment is at risk, and it's a thought that maybe we could just agree to disagree," Daniels, a Republican, urged.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, however, opposed that idea. "We've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I am proud to be labeled a fiscal conservative and social conservative," he said in a January interview with Christianity Today magazine.

But he urges conservatives to bring about social change with civility. Pawlenty, an evangelical Christian, wrote in his book Courage to Stand: An American Story that Christian leaders trying to influence social policy should remain goodhearted, measured and loving.

He advises, "It's most effective to reach out in a way that's respectful and loving, even if we disagree."

"You win more arguments or draw people in to get a fair hearing if your approach is thoughtful and civil and respectful in these matters," he said.

Focus on the Family has maintained its co-sponsorship of CPAC despite GOProud's presence. Focus on the Family Action spokesperson, Tim Minnery, re-iterated FOTF's beliefs in social conservatism, but he also stated, "We think we've got to engage the broader conservative movement and to be salt and light in that environment."

FOTF has said it will re-evaluate its attendance at next year's conference.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are among the speakers scheduled for the first day of CPAC 2011. Gingrich and Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney are scheduled to speak on Friday.

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