When the Republican Party campaigned on a federal marriage amendment in 2004, it sparked an outcry among gay members. Some defected, but those who stayed saw the developments as a call-to-arms. That year marked the first time the Log Cabin Republicans launched a television ad in its 30-year history, a “Defend the Constitution” spot that featured Vice President Dick Cheney speaking against a federal marriage policy. The group withheld its endorsement from President George W. Bush, but he won reelection with a strategy based partly on turnout for constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in 11 states.
Gay conservatives today report similar feelings of being galvanized, but compared to eight years ago, their rallying cry includes more favorable polling, a growing list of powerful straight allies, and a rapidly evolving national conversation. As a result, some predict this year’s platform will mark the last gasps of influence for social conservatives such as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council.
“I hope that Tony Perkins enjoyed this battle, because I think he is in the middle of losing this war, if not on the back nine, and he knows it,” said Sarah Longwell, a member of the leadership committee of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and a Log Cabin Republicans national board member. “I think you could characterize it as a tipping point,” she said.
Perkins claimed credit for the marriage plank in this year’s draft platform, criticized by some as the most antigay document to date. The language, which delegates in Tampa will approve Tuesday, includes an explicit call for a federal marriage amendment, a robust endorsement of the Defense of Marriage Act, and enthusiastic support for the multiple state campaigns underway to ban marriage equality through constitutional amendments. While this year’s platform removed a plank from 2008 about the "incompatibility of homosexuality with military service,” a section on “the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation" suggests the authors still want to challenge “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, which Congress passed two years ago with bipartisan support.
Gay Republicans and conservatives said the largely symbolic platform obscures a more important reality of growing support for equality, especially among younger voters who represent the future of the party. An analysis of recent polling trends among Republicans indicates overwhelming support for basic rights such as employment non-discrimination, majority support for legal partnerships similar to marriage, and growing support for marriage equality. According to a May 2012 Washington Post/ABC News poll, on the marriage question, opinion is evenly divided at 46% among Republicans ages 18 to 44, with support increasing quickly.
“The vast majority of Republican voters have moved beyond the question of whether gay and lesbian Americans should be treated equally,” said Jeff Cook, senior advisor to American Unity PAC. “The discussion now is over how it should be done."
Attitudes expressed to pollsters contrast a platform process dominated by a small but vocal group with extreme antigay views. In addition to Perkins’ involvement, James Bopp, an Indiana attorney who has defended the National Organization for Marriage’s efforts to keep its donors secret, chaired one of the platform subcommittees. The full committee chaired by Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell shot down attempts by a minority of delegates to add civil unions and strip the DOMA language last week.
Observers offered different reasons for the platform outcome. Some said the most ideologically driven factions of the party have historically controlled the drafting process, while others suggested pro-equality forces have not yet fully penetrated state party structures. Still others saw the quadrennial ritual as a way for presidential nominees to pay homage to certain constituencies, drawing a comparison to President Obama’s controversial decision to invite pastor Rick Warren to offer the invocation at the 2009 inauguration.
The Log Cabin Republicans, who participated in the platform drafting process for the first time this year, issued a statement afterward that attributed the final product to a “generational divide” but praised the “vigorous debate” that occurred. Their contingent included Kathryn Lehman, a lesbian former chief of staff for the House Republican Conference who helped write DOMA but is now lobbying to repeal the 1996 law on behalf of Freedom to Marry. Log Cabin has not yet announced whether it plans to endorse the Romney-Ryan ticket, and the group did not respond to requests for comment.