Influential social conservative Tony Perkins' gay joke received a loud cheer from Republicans attending the Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) 2010 in New Orleans over the weekend, news site reported.

The conference is the most prominent Republican meetup outside of the Republican National Convention.

Perkins told the crowd that one of his old Marine buddies was set to retire after decades of service to his country.

When Perkins asked why, the Marine answered: “When I joined, homosexuality was illegal. When I reenlisted, it was optional. I want to get out now – before it's mandatory!”

Perkins, who also announced the birth of his fifth child, heads the Family Research Council (FRC), a vehement opponent of gay rights.

Last week, Perkins urged followers to bail on the Republican Party due in part to its support of Ted Olson, the constitutional lawyer whose support for gay marriage has ruffled the feathers of conservative Republicans. Olson is representing a gay and a lesbian couple in the first federal challenge to a gay marriage ban. He argues that such bans are unconstitutional. Perkins' moves come after the RNC hired Olson to represent them in a campaign finance case.