Something for everyone in Bush's all-purpose stance on gays

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The Independent US

For the first time, an openly homosexual politician will address a US Republican Party Convention, this week. Jim Kolbe is the only "out" gay Republican in the US Congress, and his prominent appearance is a real shift for the party.

For the first time, an openly homosexual politician will address a US Republican Party Convention, this week. Jim Kolbe is the only "out" gay Republican in the US Congress, and his prominent appearance is a real shift for the party.

He will make a three-minute speech in prime television time on Tuesday, on the subject of trade. His appearance is a sign of how George W Bush, the party's presidential candidate, is trying to open the party up and ease its hard-line conservative image.

But the divisions within the party over homosexuality still loom large. They illustrate the uneasy relations between moderates and conservatives, and how Mr Bush has struggled to avoid defining his position.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Log Cabin Republicans, the party's gay caucus, will hold a reception, another first at a Republican nominating convention.

The party is also expected to moderate references to gays in its manifesto. It will drop opposition to civil-rights laws which "cover sexual preference", for instance. But it will still oppose gay marriages and state that "homosexuality is incompatible with military service".

Even these minimal concessions may be swept away by conservatives who regard homosexuality as a sin. And a "leading conservative Republican" told ABC News he was "flabbergasted" by the decision to allow Mr Kolbe to speak.

Mr Bush has built his appeal on "compassionate conservativism" - appealing to both moderates and the right. He has tried to appeal to groups which have been alienated from the party, and to bridge damaging ideological divides between right and left over issues such as abortion.

But he has had a uneasy relationship with gay Republicans, and it is hard to say where he is on the key issues - deliberately so. He repeatedly refused to meet the national leadership of the Log Cabin Republicans. When he tried to explain, it became no clearer: "I mean, this is all - I am - I am - I am someone who is a uniter, not a divider," he said in a TV interview. "I don't believe in group thought, pitting one group of people against another. And all that does is kind of create a huge political, you know, nightmare for people."

Yet when he did go on to meet another group of prominent gay Republicans, he pronounced himself "a better person". It is not clear whether Mr Bush would appoint gays to his administration.

He is reported to have told conservative groups that he would not, and he told a Christian radio station that "an openly known homosexual is somebody who probably wouldn't share my philosophy". He has also said, however, that "if someone can do a job, and a job that he's qualified for, that person ought to be allowed to do his job".

Mr Bush has friends and supporters who are gay: Dee Mosbacher, daughter of a former Republican official, political consultant Charles Francis, Carl Schmid, former president of the DC Chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, and Washington City Councilman David Catania.

His choice of running mate, Dick Cheney, also sends an interesting signal on the gay front. When Mr Cheney was appointed, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force described him as "anti-gay". But his position is far from hard line. His daughter, Mary, is a lesbian; Mr Cheney, when Secretary of Defense, said he thought the ban on gays in the Pentagon was "a bit of an old chestnut".

"I am one of those people who believes that people's sexual preference is no one else's business," he said in an interview on CNN; though he opposed letting gays into the uniformed services.

Mr Bush's record in Texas is no clearer. When Texas Republican officials tried to keep Log Cabin out of the state convention, he was critical, saying that "all individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect". But he has said he is against gay adoptions and that he would oppose efforts to get rid of an old Texan law which makes sodomy illegal,

"This soft defence is disingenuous," Professor Dale Carpenter, of the University of Min-nesota Law School, wrote. "It says to the religious right, 'I share your values.' It then winks at everyone else and whispers, 'But I don't really mean it.' It's the kind of politics that promises something with its fingers crossed behind its back."

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