A group representing lesbian and gay Republicans has said that the election of Michael Steele as chairman of the party’s national committee will mark a change of direction after two successive election defeats.

Log Cabin Republicans said that Mr Steele had acknowleged in a media interview during his campaign the importance of reaching out to Log Cabin and other mainstream GOP groups “as the party looks to chart a future course.”

“Michael Steele understands you win elections by addition, not subtraction,” said Patrick Sammon, chair of Log Cabin.

“He understands we must focus on what unites us, not what divides us as Republicans.

“After two straight election defeats, it was clear that more of the same was not the answer.

“I’m excited that members of the Republican National Committee understood this fact.”

Republican candidate John McCain was defeated in the Presidential election in November by Barack Obama, bringing to an end eight years of the Bush presidency.

The Democrats retained control of and gained seats in both Houses of the US Congress.

Gay news outlet The Advocate reports that Mr Steele “opposes gay marriage, and in January 2005 he joined socially conservative religious leaders for a rally in Baltimore calling for a statewide constitutional ban on same-sex unions.”

Mr Steele, lieutenant governor of Maryland from 2003 to 2007, is the first African-American to be serve as RNC Chair.

The RNC develops the party’s political platform and coordinates fundraising and election strategy.

Log Cabin said Mr Steele will be “the most important person in shaping the party’s future” and highlighted that during his acceptance speech he said the Republicans are “going to bring this party to every corner, every boardroom, every neighbourhood, every community.”

The gay caucus within the Democratic party said Mr Steele was opposed to equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

“Although there were candidates that were not selected for RNC chair with stronger anti-equality credentials than Michael Steele, which shows hope for the party, we should carefully consider his record as the Republican party moves forward,” said National Stonewall Democrats executive director Jon Hoadley.

“The Republican party has a troubling history of anti-equality activism. Unfortunately, Michael Steele has been a part of that record.

“Each time that he has promised voters a new tone in politics he has also taken steps to solidify the anti-LGBT positions of his own party.”

Stonewall Democrats said the Democratic National Committee (DNC) recently elevated three openly gay officials to the highest ranks of the party.

“At its meeting last week in Washington, Andy Tobias was elected Treasurer of the DNC while Rufus Gifford was appointed as national Finance Chair. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Raymond Buckley was elected Vice Chair of the DNC and President of the Association of State Democratic Chairs.

“The DNC Vice Chair ranks second only to the national party chair, Governor Tim Kaine of Virginia.

“Stonewall Democrats actively campaigned for Buckley’s election among party insiders and supported the election and appointment of both Tobias and Gifford.”