Gay-rights GOP group gives Cornyn award after 'no' vote to move on DADT repeal

In an effort to build party unity around fiscal issues, the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) honored Cornyn and five House Republicans — Reps. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.), Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), and Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) – at a dinner banquet at the National Republican Club on Capitol Hill.

Neither Cornyn, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, nor Sessions, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), appeared in person at the dinner. Cornyn and his wife attended a private reception that was closed to the press beforehand however, according to LCR spokeswoman Melissa Kennedy. Sessions sent the NRCC's coalition director to accept his award.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats fell four votes shy of the 60 needed to proceed to the 2011 defense authorization bill, which includes language repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law, after Republicans objected to several Democratic amendments in the bill.

But on Wednesday night, nearly 200 Republicans – many openly gay – sporting “Fire Pelosi” buttons gathered to support the five House Republicans’ bid for reelection this November.

Over plates of chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans, the Republican lawmakers invoked the legacies of presidents Lincoln and Reagan, with many speaking about their own hardships of discrimination.

Cao, who supports the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law, told the crowd that as the only Vietnamese-American serving in the House, he knows firsthand what it means to overcome obstacles.

Biggert, speaking of her acceptance into Stanford University in the 1960s, said that a professor once told her that he was not OK with her taking the place of a man, though, she joked, that as one of only three women, it was “pretty good pickings” for boyfriends. She encouraged the audience that just like women’s suffrage, the gay community would get its rights in the military.

“[The stars] will align on… ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’,” she said. “So don’t be discouraged or disheartened by the setback this week.”

Ros-Letinen, the first Republican to join the House’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) caucus, spoke of her experience as a Cuban-American fighting to ensure that other citizens would not face the same discrimination she did when she first came to this country.

“To quote a phrase that’s been badly misused, ‘Si se puede,’” Ros-Letinen said, referring to President Obama’s campaign slogan. “Yes we can.”

Some of the Republicans have gotten criticism from their conservative base for supporting gay rights. At a recent meeting with the socially conservative Republican group, Taproot, Biggert said she was asked why she was planning to attend the Log Cabin event on Wednesday.

She said that it was because Republicans share the same values, and while there may be some differences within the party on social issues, the GOP needs to unite on fiscal, national security and civil liberties issues.