Leading up to this year's CPAC, one of the big sources of controversy was the conference's decision to exclude GOProud, the gay Republican group, from the festivities. At a time when Republicans say they want to be more inclusive, two back-to-back panels on Thursday showed that there's not quite a consensus on this as a path forward.
First up was "Stop THIS": Threats, harassment, intimidation, slander & bullying from the Obama Administration," a largely underattended panel that discussed the "vilification" of conservatives for their positions on voter ID and gay marriage, among other things. Brian Brown, of the National Organization for Marriage, told the room not to "accept that the civil libertarian position is the position that somehow we need to embrace same-sex marriage," adding: "What we need is people standing up more than ever for marriage as between a man and a woman."
Ben Shapiro, editor at large of Breitbart News, argued that the left has been able to push its pro-same-sex marriage message in large part because it's used bullying to overtake powerful institutions. "The left has pushed through Hollywood through every means that gay marriage is equal in every way to straight marriage."
"It's really that simple. The media has to be destroyed where it stands," he added.
In an interview with Salon after the panel, Brown, of NOM, dismissed the notion that the Republican party, and conservatives as a whole, need to be more inclusive. "What does inclusive mean? I think we need to include the majority of African-Americans who support traditional marriage, the majority of Hispanics who support traditional marriage." He added that he supports CPAC's decision not to include GOProud in the conference.
"Traditional marriage is not only right, it's smart politically," he said. "And if the party were to abandon it, it's done. We will form another party. We are conservatives first, Republicans second."
Brown acknowledged that "you have some people here that actually accept" same-sex marriage, "but the overwhelming majority of the people at this conference do not accept the idea that conservatism equates with redefining the fundamental unit of society."
But, immediately after, in a small but totally packed room in the convention center, a different group of conservatives had another perspective. The panel was called "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the coalition, bringing tolerance out of the closet," and though unofficially affiliated with CPAC, featured the exiled head of GOProud, Jimmy LaSalvia, as well as other pro-gay marriage conservatives.
“We have tolerated something in our movement for far too long: bigotry against gay people,” LaSalvia said. “There are a few in our movement who just don’t like gay people.” He added: “Bigotry has to be called out and condemned,” it’s the “same as racism.”
Jennifer Rubin, a columnist for the Washington Post, has previously condemned CPAC for its decision to exclude GOProud, and said at the panel that Republicans are seen as "harsh and screaming at people."
"If you in this room are not doing something to grow the Republican Party, the Republican Party will die," she said.
Jonah Goldberg, editor at large for the National Review, told the room that "there's a lot of cannibalism going on on the right," and that he initially declined to sit on the panel -- until he heard that Donald Trump would be a speaker. Goldberg said that he felt Trump was a more harmful choice than "a Republican who happens to be gay."
He continued: "As a society we should in some way encourage people to live in the institution of marriage when they can. Besides, it's a free society and they should be free to form whatever associations they want."