Massachusetts Republican congressional candidate Richard Tisei, left, shakes hands with Joe McDonough in June 2012. (Boston Globe via Getty Images)

A gay Republican running in one of the top congressional races in the country has a message for his fellow Republicans: Get with the times.

Former state senator Richard Tisei, who is challenging Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) again after losing narrowly in 2012, said in a recent speech that his party needs to move its platform beyond the 19th Century -- a clear allusion to its stance on issues like gay marriage.

In his speech at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, N.H., on Saturday, Tisei said young voters and those who want smaller government should be drawn to the GOP.

"But they’re not. And do you know why? It's because we'll never be a 21st Century party if our platform is stuck in the 19th Century," Tisei said.

Tisei went on to argue that Republicans should be the party of gay rights. He suggested that the party's embrace of legislation to prevent gay marriage actually runs counter to its founding principles.

"It is in our party’s DNA to champion freedom and champion liberty," he said. "It is in our party’s DNA to be a beacon of hope. Yet, while our party has remained consistent on matters of economics and foreign affairs, some have abandoned our principles on matters of civil rights and individual freedoms."

Tisei added that, if Republicans don't change, they risk dying off as a party.

"So it’s appropriate that we’re here in New Hampshire, the Live Free or Die state," he said. "Because the message that our national leaders in Washington need to hear in Washington is: Promote Freedom or risk dying."

Tisei is one of a trio of gay candidates running in top races vying to become the first openly gay Republicans to win election to Congress. The others are former San Diego city councilman Carl DeMaio and former University of New Hampshire business school dean Dan Innis.

Two openly gay Republicans have served in Congress -- former congressmen Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Steve Gunderson (R-Wis.) -- but neither was out when they were first elected.