Heck, I’d like to hear debates on pretty much any and every issue dividing factions on the right, including gay rights. But CPAC has declared that gay groups can’t even set up a booth this year. It’s one thing to hold firm to your principles on traditional marriage; it’s quite another to say that dissenting gay groups — that is, conservative gay groups — can’t officially hand out fliers on the premises (as they were allowed to in the past).

Some will no doubt see this as CPAC bravely holding the line. But it reads to many in the public as a knee-jerk and insecure retreat at precisely the moment conservatives should be sending the opposite message. Maybe the near third of young Republicans who support gay marriage are wrong, but CPAC won’t convince them — never mind other young voters — of that by fueling the storyline that conservatives are scared of gays.

It’s not CPAC’s fault that the borders of conservatism are shrinking, but it would be nice if at this moment it acted less like a border guard keeping all but the exquisitely credentialed out and more like a tourist board, explaining why it’s such a great place to visit — and live.