This afternoon, Marco Rubio, in a speech full of red meat for conservatives (but nothing on his pet project, immigration reform), declared, "Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot." The crowd roared, even though Rubio's sentiment was hardly the expression of conservative defiance they seemed to embrace it as — President Obama himself publicly held the same position until a few days ago.
One person at CPAC who we figured might have a different point of view is Jimmy LaSalvia, the executive director of the gay conservative group GOProud. Though banned from participating in CPAC in any official capacity, LaSalvia managed to slip in anyway tonight via a pro-gay-rights panel (which also included Jonah Goldberg, Jennifer Rubin, Liz Mair, and Margaret Hoover) hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank. But in his remarks, LaSalvia went even further than Rubio in his defense of the traditional marriage crowd. "Opposition to gay marriage doesn't make you a bigot," he said to applause in a jam-packed conference room.
After the panel discussion was over, we asked LaSalvia how he could reach such a conclusion. After all, wouldn't opposing interracial marriage make you, you know, a racist? If opposition to marriage equality isn't fueled by negative attitudes toward gays, then is there some kind of legitimate reasoning behind it?
"Well, our country is dealing with changing attitudes and prejudices relating to gay people," he told us. "I think that people who just don't like gay people are bigots, but I don't think that people who are wrestling with the issue or thinking about the issue differently are necessarily anti-gay. I just don't .... I know that many people, like you heard tonight, come at it from a religious tradition, and you know, they're struggling with the issue. But I can't call them bigots, because I don't believe that many people in their hearts truly just don't like gay people."
To Margaret Hoover, the Republican gay-rights activist (and great-granddaughter of Herbert), such a position is a diplomatic necessity for someone trying to win over fellow Republicans to the cause of gay rights. "Jimmy's trying to grow a movement," she told us.
Hoover's in the same boat. Even though she can't think of a single logical reason to oppose gay marriage, she still isn't a fan of the b-word. It just doesn't advance the cause.
"I don't want to call people bigots! I don't think it's helpful," she told us. "Because you know what, what does that get me?"