Call this a rapprochement and a step in the right direction, but …. it’s not quite a return, either. CPAC and the gay-conservative group GOProud buried the hatchet from the last couple of years, when the American Conservative Union board rejected the group as a sponsor of CPAC. They’re still not going to be a sponsor at CPAC 2014, but at least the ACU and CPAC are rolling out a welcome mat:

The annual debate over CPAC’s participants and focus reflects the broader, ongoing dialogue over growing the conservative movement and the Republican Party without compromising core principles. Gay rights are a major part of that debate, as conservative groups remain firmly opposed to gay marriage despite polls showing increasing and majority support.

The dispute with GOProud dates back to 2011, when a number of socially conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council, objected to the group’s involvement and declined to participate. Insults were traded between GOProud leaders and ACU board members, culminating in the group’s exclusion.

Two former GOProud summer interns, Ross Hemminger and Matt Bechstein, took over last summer and sought to repair the bitterly frayed relationship. Under a compromise reached last week, they will attend the March 6-8 gathering as guests, without sponsorship or a booth. GOProud sees the lower-profile role as an important first step.

“We really just want to be part of the conservative movement,” said Hemminger, a veteran of the losing Senate campaigns by Scott Brown and Gabriel Gomez in Massachusetts. “We want to establish a fruitful and respectful relationship.”

Dan Schneider, executive director of the ACU, praised the GOProud directors for their “new vision” of promoting conservative principles from gun rights to opposition to abortion.

GOProud announced that it would attend on its website:

In the article we sit down with Beth Reinhard to discuss some of the latest happenings at GOProud, including some recent leadership transitions, the midterm elections, and yes, our plans for attending CPAC 2014!

As always, with your help GOProud will continue building bridges within the Republican Party that foster inclusion, and reinforce freedom for everyone.

The issue at the 2010 and 2011 CPAC conferences wasn’t about attendance, though, but sponsorship. That began in December 2009 when the group was first added to the roster of sponsors. A year later, even with their role reduced to “participating organization,” their presence touched off a boycott. After Sarah Palin defended their presence at CPAC 2011, which prompted a demand from one conservative group for her to “clarify” her position on social issues. Shortly afterward, CPAC dumped GOProud for the rhetoric that resulted from the avalanche of criticism, and that’s where things stood until this week.

However, there was never a ban on attendance for GOProud members — only a resolve not to include the group as a sponsor or “participating organization,” which would have allowed them a booth in the exhibitor hall. Individual members were always allowed to attend as such, although with the hostile rhetoric, it wasn’t a big surprise to see a lack of enthusiasm for doing so. This new rapprochement still leaves GOProud off the list of participating organizations — for now — but at least allows for cooler heads and saner rhetoric at present. Perhaps that will create a more friendly atmosphere, which hopefully will result in unity along the vast majority of conservative principles shared by all sides.

It’s not a new status, but perhaps a long-overdue fresh start. We need fiscal conservatives and small-government activists to unite in 2014, and that is what CPAC is supposed to facilitate, rather than division and disunity.

Addendum: Just for full disclosure, Townhall is one of the sponsors for CPAC 2014.