Gay Marriage Is Dividing Republicans

3 years ago

The newly adopted Texas Republican Party platform stirred up a national debate over the discredited "reparative therapy" for gays, arguably setting the stage for pro-marriage equality Republican activists to force change as concerns resurface that the party's own actions further stymie relevance and growth. Marriage equality promises to be a forefront watershed issue for the Republican Party in the lead up to the 2016 Presidential Election.

San Diego Republican Carl DeMaio features support of same-sex marriage in campaign ad. Image: From DeMaio's YouTube video, below.

It's disconcerting news as the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry launch a $1 million national campaign to drop gay marriage opposition in early voting states for the 2016 Presidential Election and advocating to instead adopt statements celebrating the value of marriage as a "fundamental, personal freedom."

"We are absolutely working in every way we can to show America is ready for the freedom to marry, and that includes, increasingly, Republicans," said Freedom to Marry's Evan Wolfson to The Wall Street Journal.

Public opinion supports their effort. A recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll shows that half of all Americans believe gays have a constitutional right to marry. In fact, 40 percent of Republicans support gay marriage, and nearly 60 percent of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 29 do. Even 51 percent of white evangelicals under 35 support it, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

Yet, even the real threat of growing obsolete does little to sway the Republican National Committee when just last April it overwhelmingly approved a resolution reaffirming its opposition to gay marriage.

Still, the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry march on, believing it could see dial movement in forward-thinking states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, where same-sex couples have been marrying for years. 

"(We're) presenting the position of many mainstream Republicans who have witnessed the love and commitment of their LGBT friends, family and neighbors and who would much prefer to 'live and let live' rather than continuing this divisive culture war," Casey Pick told BlogHer. Pick is a member of the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and former programs director for the National Log Cabin Republicans.

Many of the strongest "mainstream Republicans" include the daughters of elected Republican leaders, such as Meghan McCain and Abby Huntsman. At a Young Conservatives event last year, the outspoken McCain explained a sentiment shared by many within the Party that's hard to argue with: "being a Republican who supports gay marriage is a bitch."

Indeed, anti-gay rhetoric erodes the GOP's effort to appeal to women voters, along with moderates, independents and younger Americans, Pick said.

"There is simply no upside to it and in many parts of the country, it is a political liability," Pick told BlogHer.

Evidently, that's just not true in Texas. The Texas GOP Convention attracted national media attention this week when it supported the much-discredited "reparative therapy," also called "conversion therapy"—the notion that being gay is a treatable mental health disorder. The Party's state convention also denied a booth to the Log Cabin Republicans and reaffirmed its opposition to gay marriage.

The Texas Republicans' measure states:

"We recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy."

But many professional organizations denounce conversion therapy, including the American Psychological Association. The APA notes, "no scientificially adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation... is safe or effective."

Not so, said plank supporter Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum.

"I do not think homosexuals are born as homosexuals," Adams told CNN. "No one can change the color of their skin or change the place they're born, but they can definitely choose their lifestyles."

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie disagrees. He signed a law banning gay conversaion therapy for minors and wrote in his signing statement that the APA has found that "efforts to change sexual oreintations can pose critical health risks including be not limited to, depression, substance abuse, social withdrawal, decreased self-estatem and suicidal thoughts."

For both people to hail from the same party illustrates the GOP's internal ideological rifts. It's the reason behind the commissioning of the Republican National Committee's Growth and Opportunity Project report following the failed 2012 Presidential election. The report concluded that the party's position on gay rights might be a barrier to younger voters.

“There is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays—and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” the report stated. “If our Party is not welcoming and inclusive, young people and increasingly other voters will continue to tune us out.”

Amazingly, the very same Republican National Commtitee followed up the report by overwhelmingly approving a resolution reaffirming its opposition to gay marriage. And as if that were not enough of a strong message, conservative leaders condemned the report as a watering down of Party principles issuing a warning that going against the plank will "result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support."

One congressional race seems to demonstrate the futility of this idelogical clash. Republican Carl DeMaio of California looks poised to defeat Democratic incumbent Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego) in a November run-off. The candidate made political history as the first to feature his same-sex partner in a campaign TV ad: "A New Generation Republican."

"I had someone email me saying 'You're throwing this in our face,' " DeMaio told the Log Cabin Republicans of San Diego. "And I responded saying, 'Well, this is quite interesting. 'Have you never seen a straight candidate's ad before?'"

Yet, DeMaio believes it is fiscal and not social issues, that unite Republicans and set their principles apart from Democrats.

"Frankly, the government needs to get out of the business of trying to decide what we should be doing in our personal lives," DeMaio told BlogHer. "If we can unite on issues that affect every single American every single day—focusing on jobs and the economy—we can accomplish what we set out to do: fix a broken government."

DeMaio's thinking gibes with the Arizona Republican Party's recent platform vote to delete opposition to gay marriage, as well as abortion, reasoning that the courts decided the issues. The move inspired hope, Pick said.

"Arizona has a long history of producing Barry Goldwater-style conservatives focused on limiting government and expanding freedom," she told BlogHer. "This is also the state that gave us openly-gay former Congressman Jim Kolbe. I'm not surprised to see them on the leading edge of a more modern Republican Party."

Arizona still might be an anomaly, rather than a turning tide. Rich Galen, a GOP strategist who supports gay marriage, said the platform will be hard to change and doubts the plank would disappear in his lifetime.

"Political party platforms always appeal to the edges," Galen told The Wall Street Journal. "Those are often the most ideologically driven."

But Pick and her fellow advocates remain steadfast, though they know the climb is steep and all uphill.

"With the speed at which public opinion is shifting on this issue, which will only increase as more couples win the freedom to marry in states nationwide, it is not hard to imagine that by 2016 vocal opposition to the freedom to marry will be a strong negative among a majority of voters," Pick told BlogHer. "For the minority of voters who will continue to oppose marriage equality, the choice will be to live and let live, or to lose elections, plain and simple."

Erica Holloway is a Republican contributing editor for BlogHer, covering politics and news. Contact her at erica (at) galvanized strategies (dot) com. Follow her @erica_holloway.


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