At the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010, Students for Liberty President Alexander McCobin delivered a well-remembered speech praising the conference's organizers for allowing a gay conservative group to participate. McCobin also called on conservatives to embrace legal equality for gay people. He received cheers from libertarian-leaning students in the crowd, and also considerable hostility from social conservatives—including Young Americans for Freedom activist Ryan Sorba, who followed up McCobin's remarks with a hateful condemnation of gay people as unnatural.
In years since, gay conservatives have faced varying degrees of animosity at the conference, as CPAC—and conservatism as a whole—grappled with its identity crisis on social issues.
This year, the Log Cabin Republicans initially claimed they were being blackballed from CPAC, but after conversations with event organizers its president was invited to appear on a panel to discuss Russia's anti-gay policies.
There is some evidence that social conservatives are the ones actually feeling marginalized at CPAC these days. According to Politico, Mike Huckabee is steering clear of the conference in part because of its libertarian tilt, and Rick Santorum will supposedly deliver a speech razor-focused on national security, rather than social issues.
Taken together, these things provide a clear picture of the future of the conservative movement: it will be gay friendly, and very libertarian.
How do I know this? Because there aren't enough anti-gay young people to replenish the ranks of older conservatives. Libertarianism has already won the war for the souls of non-liberal young people. Visit a campus, and the strongest challenge to liberal orthodoxy is coming not from a legitimately conservative movement, but from students who either lean or fully embrace the tenets of libertarianism. More than 1,700 students attended McCobin's International Students for Liberty Conference* this year; one of the evening events was an "LGBT Libertarian Social/Dane Party" at Town Danceboutique, a gay club.
Young libertarians have different priorities than conservatives on social issues, and on foreign policy. There is every reason to believe that they will play an increasingly strong role in setting the right's agenda in the years to come, no matter how many battles they lose from year to year (and they are losing fewer and fewer of them).
*Disclaimer: I spoke at the conference, as did several other Reason staffers. I have also participated in many previous ISFL events. Reason is a "Silver Level" sponsor of the conference.
Watch Reason TV cover CPAC and gay issues below.