A Gay Old Time For the G.O.P.

Underneath all that macho blustering from the podium, the Republicans in Madison Square Garden are haunted by homosexuality. They can’t abide it, and yet they can’t seem to avoid it.

To feign tolerance and diversity is a challenge for a party whose platform denies basic rights to the gay and lesbian minority, but the President’s political strategists believe that four days of big-tent rhetoric can buy four years of narrow-minded government. If the G.O.P.’s 2000 convention took on the ridiculous trappings of a multicultural minstrel show, this year’s spectacle might be called “Queer Eye 2004.”

While nobody mentioned social issues on the convention’s opening evening-which was mainly devoted to the glorification of the disastrous Iraq war-the speakers themselves symbolized broad-minded moderation.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is a Manhattan Republican insofar as he is a Republican at all, which means that he supports the full gay civil-rights agenda. Only hours before he delivered his greetings to the convention, Hizzoner headlined a “Big Tent Event” sponsored by those beleaguered gay politicos, the Log Cabin Republicans.

Following the Mayor came Senator John McCain, whose embrace of George W. Bush and Karl Rove must still cause him embarrassment and pain. They are using him to attract independent and moderate voters, a sadly contradictory role for which the free-thinking Senator was qualified by his routine opposition to the Bush White House.

Most recently Mr. McCain frustrated their Federal Marriage Amendment, which he fought to defeat in the Senate only six weeks ago. In announcing his position, he called the gay-bashing amendment “antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans.” He noted that it “usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them.” But he politely refrained from pointing out that his view is identical with that expressed by the President four years ago, when Mr. Bush said regulation of marriage should remain with the states. (And by the way, hasn’t the President done a “flip-flop” on an issue that he claims to take most seriously?)

Then came former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, perhaps the G.O.P.’s gay-friendliest straight male. Although he occasionally says stupid things about God and the divine providence that chose George W. Bush, Mr. Giuliani can’t pretend to be an advocate of biblical morality. After publicly dumping his wife for his mistress, “America’s Mayor” moved out of Gracie Mansion and into the Upper East Side apartment of a happy gay couple that happens to be among his closest confidants. (They used to double-date with him and his ex-wife on New Year’s Eve.)

Like every other politician who hopes to be President, Mr. Giuliani now equivocates on gay marriage, but his former male roommates, who have lived together for more than a decade, are confident about his true feelings. As one of them explained to a reporter, “If they would pass a law that marriage would become legal between same-sex couples, I would be the first in line. And if Rudy were still Mayor, I know he’d perform the civil ceremony for me.”

For that matter, so would Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Dick Cheney, or almost anyone scheduled to address the Republicans in prime time (except the President himself). On television the convention features broad-minded speakers, but off-screen the party agitates the base with anti-gay rhetoric.

Certainly this is hypocrisy, but of what kind? Are the Republicans trying to fool independent voters by pretending to endorse a modern inclusiveness they abhor? Or do Messrs. Schwarzenegger, Giuliani and Cheney represent a sophisticated leadership that merely pretends to detest homosexuality so the rubes will remain Republican?

Behind those questions lies a deeper double standard that has plagued the Republicans ever since they began to exploit fear of homosexuality, namely that so many of their own elected officials, staffers, activists and thinkers happen to be gay and mostly still closeted. The G.O.P. strategists who scapegoat gays at election time always know that they’ll be depending on closeted gays to do their dirty work.

On the first day of the Republican convention, those closet doors were flung open when Representative Ed Schrock, a Republican from Virginia, suddenly dropped his bid for re-election.

Mr. Schrock represents the home district of the Reverend Pat Robertson and is sufficiently conservative to have been chosen president of his Republican freshman class in the House. A 63-year-old retired career Navy officer and Vietnam veteran, he holds a coveted seat on the House Armed Services Committee. He is a supporter of the Federal Marriage Amendment and sought tough measures to remove gays from the military.

Now his career is over, because a gay Web site called Blogactive.com has exposed what it calls his secret homosexual life and what he calls “allegations.” The activists from Blogactive.com who outed Mr. Schrock say they will soon reveal more “gay homophobes” in Congress as well as “highly placed officials in the Bush administration.”

Yes, but will anybody still be surprised?