A sizeable part of the American conservative movement is enraged by A&E's decision to put "Duck Dynasty" co-star Phil Robertson on leave from filming after he colorfully denounced homosexuality, leaving gay conservatives in an uncomfortable position.
Basing his tirade on his religious beliefs, the reality TV star vividly described gay sex and labeled it a sin in an interview published Dec. 17 on GQ magazine's website.
"It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus," he told GQ's Drew Magary. "That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. "
A&E executives quickly expressed disappointment and put Robertson's role in the top-rated cable TV show, which features his family and its duck-hunting business, on indefinite hiatus.
After the network's decision, Robertson's family members said they would be unwilling to continue without him. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and former Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, rushed to his defense.
"I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment," said Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. "The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with."
As of Friday, more than 257,000 people signed an online petition started by the group Faith Driven Consumer demanding Robertson's return to the show, which Nielsen ratings indicate netted A&E nearly 14 million viewers the week of Dec. 9.
Self-identified gay conservatives, who seek to broaden the movement and the Republican Party to include them, have different takes on the controversy.
"The knee jerk reaction of some on the right to actually defend this kind of ugliness is yet another reminder of just how out of touch these folks are with where America is and where America is going," says Chris Barron, a Republican activist who co-founded the gay conservative organization GOProud.
"Robertson wasn't quoting from the Bible, he went on a vulgar and bigoted anti-gay rant," says Barron, who stressed he was only speaking for himself and not on behalf of any organization.
Barron's group was not invited to return as a co-sponsor of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in 2012 after a lobbying effort by social conservatives who believe gay organizations do not belong in the movement.
"I understand people having different opinions about whether A&E's decision to suspend him was the right call," says Barron. "What is so hard to comprehend is the desire of some on the right to defend the substance of what he said."
Another gay conservative who has been attacked by socially conservative members of the Republican Party sees the Robertson controversy differently.
"The self-appointed gay leadership's reaction to a reality show star's personal religious views was troubling," says Richard Grenell, who served as foreign policy spokesman for Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign before resigning when his sexual orientation became a political issue.
"Gay Americans value free speech, don't demand that everyone think like they do and aren't nearly as thin-skinned as the so-called gay leadership," Grenell says. "Tolerance means you are OK with people thinking differently than you do. Sadly, liberal intolerance is on the rise."
But Michael Lucas, a self-identified conservative who owns one of the country's largest gay pornography companies, Lucas Entertainment, says Americans shouldn't tolerate intolerance.
"He is a religious-fundamentalist bigot, and the world is losing patience with that," Lucas says. "In Afghanistan he would be fighting for the Taliban. In Russia he would be pulling the roof off gay clubs. We should not feel obliged to make room for this person in American popular culture."
Lucas grew up in the Soviet Union. In a 2012 op-ed published by The Advocate he said living in a country "run into the ground by an army of bureaucrats" shaped his political beliefs. He said he wishes he could join the Republican Party, because he opposes Democratic Party policy on taxation and economic liberty, but cannot do so until it abandons social conservatism.