Even as GOP delegates endorsed a platform this week that tacks sharply to the right on gay rights, the Republican Party is about to nominate a presidential candidate who, in the past, has shown signs of sympathy and solidarity with the gay community.
The disconnect has laid bare the deep fissure that persists within the Republican Party on LGBT issues more than a year after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages should be legal nationwide.
Social conservatives meeting ahead of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland helped usher language into the platform that seemed to affirm state laws restricting which bathrooms transgender people can use and urging the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling to be overturned, rejecting calls from those who favored more welcoming language and policies. The fight is expected to play out through next week’s convention and beyond.
“It continues to cleave the party because it is, to these social conservatives on the fringe right, something of a brave new world to them, even though much of the rest of America has moved on,” said Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, which will be present at the convention next week. Angelo sent out a fundraising email Tuesday saying that the platform — which he called the most anti-LGBT in party history — doesn’t represent the party or Trump.
“It’s our intention to continue to make noise about the platform next week,” Angelo said in an interview. “The platform committee made their bed, and now they need to lie in it.”
To conservatives, the language in the platform is a response to the social upheavals that have occurred since the last one was adopted in 2012. They include the marriage ruling and the growing public debate over policies effecting transgender people. There has been a flurry of anti-LGBT legislation in the year since the marriage ruling, including a law in North Carolina mandating that people use the restroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate.
“As issues become current, we put them in the platform,” said James Bopp, a conservative delegate from Indiana. “Issues like privacy in the bathroom and attacks on conversion therapy are really kind of contemporary issues where we’re seeing the gay community being intolerant of people’s differing views.”
The draft platform included language alluding to “conversion therapy,” a controversial practice where therapists try to change a child’s sexual orientation. The platform said parents have the right to make medical decisions for their minor children. The practice has been banned in a number of states; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is on Trump’s vice-presidential short-list, signed a law barring conversion therapy in that state in 2013.
The draft proposal also calls for protecting businesses that refuse services to gays and lesbians on moral grounds.
Noticeably absent from the fight is the thrice-married presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has steered clear of social issues and shown no appetite for getting involved in the culture wars that are being waged mostly on the state level. The draft platform embraced a number of staunchly conservative positions on abortion, gun rights and immigration reform.
Trump has been particularly loath to address gay rights, which enjoy growing support among Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of those surveyed said homosexuality should be accepted by society and 28 percent said it should be discouraged. In a March Pew survey, 57 percent of all voters surveyed said they support gay marriage, but 54 percent of Republicans and those who lean Republican oppose it.
Trump attended a gay wedding in the past and has said that he knows “many, many gay people. Tremendous people.” In April, Trump said that North Carolina should not have passed its bathroom law and that transgender activist Caitlyn Jenner could use the restroom of her choice at Trump Tower. He has said since then that such decisions should be left to the states and declined to take a side.
Trump’s silence on social issues — he took more than 36 hours to respond to a recent Supreme Court ruling overturning a Texas abortion law — has turned off some social conservatives.
But some have also said his relative silence is helpful to them. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council who served on the platform committee as a Louisiana delegate, credited the Trump campaign for staying out of such debates, saying that “strong arming” by party leaders in years past “didn’t happen here.” He said the process was much easier for his group than in 2012, when GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign and party leaders tried to tamp divisive stands on social issues in the platform.
“I’m very happy with what we came up with,” Perkins said.
Rachel Hoff, a delegate from the District, is not. She pushed a proposal to include diverse views on marriage and told the group in an emotional statement that she is a lesbian.
Hoff came to Cleveland fully aware that she would probably lose but said she had hoped to soften some of the language.
“I didn’t want to go in there and say ,‘We should strike this, we should support Obergefell, we should say outright that we want to protect the trans community,’ ” said Hoff, citing the Supreme Court’s marriage decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. “I believe in all of that, but I had a more measured approach.”
Hoff was unable to get any language tempering the party’s stance on traditional marriage into the platform. She was also unhappy that the platform refers to the recent terrorist shooting attack in Orlando but says nothing about the target being a gay nightclub.
“Sitting in these platform committees was the first time I’ve ever considered leaving the party,” Hoff said. “I’ve been a Republican since high school, and I realized I was gay after college. My commitment to this party is really, really deep. It would take something very, very significant for me to walk away.”
Chris Barron, a gay conservative strategist, said the platform is a document with few teeth. In 2004, as a leader of Log Cabin Republicans, he watched his allies get steamrolled by conservatives who put the party on record against gay rights and for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. He watched those issues founder in President George W. Bush’s second term.
“Platform fights are like the fourth game of an NFL pre-season — the stars don’t play, the games don’t count, and if you win, it’s irrelevant,” said Barron, who is helping organize what is billed as the “most fab party” at the convention.
“Every four years the nominees make it clear that they don’t speak for the platform,” he said. “They speak for themselves. We have the most pro-gay nominee of the Republican Party ever in Donald Trump, and that’s what matters.”
Ed O’Keefe in Cleveland and Scott Clement in Washington contributed to this report.