PHILADELPHIA - The Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's largest gay group, endorsed George W. Bush for president Friday, saying the Texas governor has reached out to gay and lesbian members of his party.
Chairman Robert Stears said the just-concluded GOP convention ''was a clear sign to all of us that a new Republican Party is emerging.''
The endorsement culminates a sometimes stormy relationship between Bush and the group, which ran ads critical of Bush for saying last November he was unlikely to meet with its leaders.
Bush met with gay Republican activists in April and took other steps Stears cited in Friday's endorsement, which officials said followed a 109-2 vote by state and local leaders from the Log Cabin's 45 chapters. The group claims 11,000 members.
Stears said openly gay delegates and alternates had been welcomed at the convention, unlike in 1992, when Patrick Buchanan criticized homosexuals in a convention speech, or in 1996, when Log Cabin Republicans held a parallel convention to call for greater tolerance.
Stears also cited a convention speech given by Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, the GOP's only openly gay member of Congress. Several members of the Texas delegation took off their cowboy hats and bowed their heads in prayer as a silent protest during the speech.
This year, 18 delegates and alternates to the convention are openly gay, compared with five in 1996, said Kevin Ivers, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans.
Still, the GOP platform says homosexuality is incompatible with military service, offers no special legal protection based on sexual preference and opposes recognition of gay marriages.
On the Net: Bush campaign: http://www.georgewbush.com
Log Cabin Republicans: http://www.lcr.org