Republicans endorsed an uncompromising position against gay unions Wednesday in a manifesto that contrasts with Vice President Dick Cheney's supportive comments about gay rights and the moderate face the party will show at next week's national convention.
A panel made up largely of conservative delegates approved platform language that calls for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and opposes legal recognition of any sort for gay partnerships. The GOP's full platform committee, seeking to appease party members who support gay or abortion rights without embracing their positions, adopted language later that states Republicans "respect and accept" dissenting views. "We are the party of the open door," said Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, who led platform deliberations on social issues.
But some activists sharply criticized their party for adopting a hard line in advance of a convention that will seek support from swing voters and more liberal Republicans.
Christopher Barron of the gay political group Log Cabin Republicans, was livid after the panel endorsed the first-ever call for a constitutional gay-marriage ban in a GOP platform and went beyond that to oppose legal recognition of any same-sex unions. "You can't craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then try to put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time," he said in an interview.
Former New York mayor Giuliani and California governor Schwarzenegger are among moderate Republicans accorded prominent convention speaking slots. Gary Bauer, who has campaigned for the marriage amendment and against abortion rights as president of the group American Values, said the platform draft solidifies the GOP as the "party of hearth and home."
The draft urges a constitutional ban on abortion, echoing a call from previous platforms, and endorses President Bush's restrictions on federal financing of stem cell research. Some Republicans want the restrictions loosened.
Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition advised the network of conservative churches not to worry about the religious right's exclusion from prime time next week, given the advances against gay rights. "Don't be distracted by Schwarzenegger or Giuliani or even the vice president," she said. "It is what George Bush says that counts, and he has been faithful and fearless on this important issue."
She dismissed the other side as "RINOs"--Republicans in Name Only.
Each side claims to represent the voters Bush needs most for reelection, setting up a balancing act as the party tries to keep its religious conservatives satisfied and motivated without driving other voters away.
Bauer, for example, said Cheney's comments making clear his opposition to a constitutional ban on gay marriage were "just the sort of thing that discourages and demoralizes voters the Administration desperately needs." Ann Stone, who leads Republicans for Choice, was just as insistent that Bush must heed voters in battleground states who might be driven away by the hard line against abortion. "Bush can't win with just his base," she said. "He needs base-plus. We are the plus."
Delegates on both sides of the abortion issue met privately with Barbour to work out platform language that would sweeten the welcome for dissenters.
An initial platform draft stated only that Republicans "recognize" that not all party members agree on everything. This was changed to "respect and accept" in a 74-18 vote. "Three words are better than one," Stone said, while calling that step insufficient.
Platform committee chairman Bill Frist, a U.S. senator from Tennessee, said the compromise on dissent shows that the party is open to other views but in a way that does not single out abortion or gay rights as special areas where Republicans can agree to disagree. "It's language I'm very comfortable with," he said later.
The committee moved on to less contentious parts of the platform, intending to finish work on the document Thursday and sending it to the convention for ratification. While Cheney's remarks concerning the Federal Marriage Amendment prompted no discussion in the platform hearings, they were the subject of heavy cell-phone chatter outside the doors. Cheney, whose daughter Mary is a lesbian, said during a campaign stop Tuesday that people should be free to have the relationships they want and that existing law may well be enough to uphold traditional marriage.
Overall, Republican convention delegates overwhelmingly disapprove of gay marriage, according to an Associated Press survey of about three quarters of the 2,500-plus delegates. About 72% said they oppose same-sex marriage, while just over 2% favor it. The rest did not respond or had no opinion. Dealing with a document that was conservative to begin with, delegates had mixed success trying to make it even more so. The panel toughened language endorsing sexual-abstinence education but turned aside a proposal to call for the elimination of family planning programs for teens.