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Gay GOP leader warns of a cultural war within party

NEW YORK -- Patrick C. Guerriero was standing in the shade beside the MSNBC stage in Herald Square yesterday morning, trying to keep from sweating. The executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans was made-up, camera-ready, and a little edgy.

Recent events have put the head of the nation's largest group of gay Republicans on the front line in the country's current culture war over gay marriage. While the Log Cabin Republicans worked hard for President George W. Bush when he was a candidate in 2000, events since then have put the group at odds with the president.

Guerriero and his members are angry about Bush's endorsement of a federal constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in February and incensed over a GOP platform that not only supports the amendment, but seems to preclude civil unions and domestic partnership benefits. They are angry that such moderates as Governor George E. Pataki of New York and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, showcased as prime-time speakers at the convention, appear to have no influence over the party's official positions on abortion and gay marriage.

The 36-year-old former Massachusetts legislator and Melrose mayor is threatening to withhold an endorsement of Bush this year. An official decision is to be made just after the convention. Guerriero refused to say yesterday which way the group would go. He does not know whether he will even vote on that issue. He has been warning that Bush, in making his pitch to social conservatives, is in danger of losing the 1 million gays and lesbians who cast ballots for him in 2000. Guerriero has been willing to say all of this publicly, and increasingly often.

''This is much more important than one election and one president," Guerriero said as he waited to go on camera. ''It's about whether there's a place in the American family for gays and lesbians. What does it say when the campaign is running this radical-right strategy to bring out 4 million evangelicals, yet Americans are going to see only our best friends and allies in prime time? This is a precursor to a cultural war within our party."

On television, Guerriero said the GOP is being ''hijacked by the radical right."

Those are the kind of fighting words not often heard from Republican loyalists these days. By talking this way, Guerriero has publicly punctured the GOP's storied party unity, making himself into something of a skunk at this year's Republican national garden party.

It is not a comfortable position for the onetime candidate for lieutenant governor in Massachusetts.

''Oh, Kathy," he said to an adviser before another round of interviews. ''Can't I go back to worrying about the streets being plowed in Melrose?"

Before his first media appearance yesterday, Guerriero was hoarse. He had come to New York to try to persuade Republicans to publicly criticize the proposed federal amendment banning gay marriage and the social-issues portion of the party's platform. It reads, in part: ''We believe and the social science confirms that the well-being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father, anchored by the bonds of marriage."

Yesterday afternoon, the Log Cabin Republicans, with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, hosted ''The Big Tent Event" at a Bryant Park restaurant, to honor social moderates, such as Pataki, Schwarzenegger, and former Massachusetts governor William F. Weld. The audience whooped loudly whenever a speaker hit at Republican conservatives. That occurred when Bloomberg said, ''I don't think we should ever use the Constitution to drive wedges between us."

At a strategy session before the party in his hotel suite yesterday, Guerriero and his advisers were running through the sound bites he would use during the event. This week, it was clear, was to be as much a war of public relations as ideology.

''That is a huge value, to have Pataki walking around with me, talking to a lesbian delegate," Guerriero told the group. ''That's the money shot." 

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