With the swearing-in of Mark Dybul, an out gay man, as the head of the US federal AIDS programme, some Christian organisations are wondering how far acceptance of homosexuality has gone in the Bush Administration.

Mr Dybul was sworn in this week as the United States’ Global AIDS Coordinator, a position that carries the rank of ambassador by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.

In this role he will lead the implementation of President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

According to conservative news source LifeSite.com, Christians are asking how appointing a gay man to be in charge of the US AIDS policy could achieve anything other than further promotion of acceptance of homosexuality.

“We have to face the fact that putting a homosexual in charge of AIDS policy is a bit like putting the fox in charge of the henhouse,” said Peter Sprigg, vice president for policy at the Family Research Council, in an email to supporters. “Does the party want to represent values voters or Mark Foley and friends?”

The LA Times reports that the long-simmering tension in the GOP between gays and the religious right has erupted into open conflict at a sensitive time, just weeks before a midterm election that may cost Republicans control of Congress.

“The big-tent strategy could ultimately spell doom for the Republican Party,” said Tom McClusky, chief lobbyist for the Family Research Council, a Christian advocacy group. “All a big-tent strategy seems to be doing is attracting a bunch of clowns.”

Now the GOP is facing a hard choice-risk losing the social conservatives who are legendary for turning out the vote, or risk alienating the moderate voters who are crucial to this election’s outcome.

“There’s a huge schism on the right,” said Mike Rogers, a gay-rights activist who runs a blog to combat what he calls hypocrisy among conservative gay politicians.

“The fiscal conservatives are furious at the religious conservatives, because they need the moderates for economic policy. But they need the social conservatives to turn out the vote.”

This week, according to the Times, a list that is said to name gay Republican staffers has been circulated to several Christian and family values groups – presumably to encourage an outing and purge.

Tom McClusky, chief lobbyist for the Family Research Council, acknowledged seeing the list but said his group did not produce it and had no intention of using it.

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