The 2016 conventions for Democrats and Republicans are seven months away, but LGBT advocates are already calling for new language to boost LGBT inclusion in the party platforms compared to years past.
The most organized of these efforts is a Republican campaign newly dubbed as simply the “Platform Reform,” which was first launched last year in an attempt to remove the opposition to same-sex marriage from the 2016 GOP platform in favor of more inclusive language.
Jerri Ann Henry, campaign manager for Platform Reform, said the efforts of the campaign since its launch energized Republicans who disagree with the existing platform language not only opposing same-sex marriage, but also endorsing a U.S. constitutional amendment against it.
“A lot of people don’t read the platform, so it’s great to show them this is what it actually says and this is what it could say,” Henry said. “We’ve met with overwhelming support as we’ve met with people in the states. People, regardless of where they stood on this issue, they didn’t approve of the language in the platform. It’s very hateful and it goes to extremes that aren’t necessary in the Republican platform.”
Henry said the 2012 platform includes anti-LGBT language in five places, including support for the now-defunct gay ban in the Boy Scouts. Much of this language, Henry said, is out of date because of changing laws, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
“We believe it’s not consistent with Republican values,” Henry said. “We’re pro-limited government, we’re very pro-family. Having more families is a big deal in our community and makes for a more stable society. We would like to replace the hateful language with inclusive language that reinforces our commitment to the values of limited government, individual freedom and family, but is inclusive of all those views.”
Outreach efforts of the campaign, Henry said, have consisted of media trips to eight states: New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Texas, Michigan, Ohio and Colorado. They were chosen, Henry said, because they’re either early primary states, critical to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of same-sex marriage or will have a lot of delegates at the upcoming Republican convention in Cleveland.
The three-paragraph plank the campaign proposes emphasizes the Republican Party’s belief in marriage as an institution that strengthens freedom and families, but also includes language recognizing the debate on same-sex marriage within the Republican Party without articulating an objection to it.
“We recognize that there are diverse and sincerely held views on civil marriage within the Party, and that support for allowing same-sex couples the freedom to marry has grown substantially in our own Party,” the plank concludes. “Given this journey that so many Americans, including Republicans, are on, we encourage and welcome a thoughtful conversation among Republicans about the meaning and importance of marriage, and commit our Party to respect for all families and fairness and freedom for all Americans.”
Although the Republican Party has a reputation for opposition to same-sex marriage, recent polls indicate differing views of the party and most younger Republicans support same-sex marriage. A 2014 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 56 percent of Republicans under the age of 45 support marriage rights for gay couples.
Upon its launch, the campaign was under the umbrella of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, a project of the New York-based LGBT group Freedom to Marry. With the larger organization closing its doors in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality, the campaign has found a new home with the American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBT Republican group founded by billionaire philanthropist Paul Singer.
Henry said the shift represents a change in the nature of the campaign, which now will focus on the “real brass tacks” of getting the proposed language in the platform.
“If the first part of this campaign was about raising awareness and bringing attention to the needs to raise the platform, now we’re in the actual boots-on-the-ground, recruiting delegates in all 50 states and meeting with RNC committee members … and working on actually placing people on the platform committee and actually changing the language,” Henry said.
The Republican platform committee, Henry said, is put together during an election year and mostly consists of delegates chosen at state conventions. The committee usually meets in the days before the convention, Henry said, which this year takes place July 18-21.
Although the platform isn’t binding on Republicans, Henry said the document matters because it’s crafted by state delegates “to determine what policies best represent our party and their conservative values.” Additionally, she said many members of the Republican Party in many states based their state platforms on the national platform, such as Massachusetts, which enacted language against same-sex marriage last year.
The new campaign is modeled off a 2012 campaign led by Freedom to Marry that sought to encourage the Democrats for the first time to endorse same-sex marriage as part of that year’s platform. The proposed language, or the idea same-sex marriage should be included in the document, was endorsed by high-profile Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), 22 U.S. senators and others. The result was language in the platform endorsing same-sex marriage shortly before voters went to the polls in four states — Minnesota, Maryland, Washington and Maine — to decide the issue.
Meanwhile, Log Cabin Republicans, which was credentialed to attend the platform committee, sought to keep out language in the 2012 Republican platform endorsing a U.S. constitutional amendment agains same-sex marriage. That effort proved unsuccessful. The 2012 Republican platform was against same-sex marriage and supported an anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment.
Henry said she’s light on endorsements for the proposed language, saying many Republicans are bound to support the existing anti-gay language in the 2012 platform. Henry added a couple RNC members are supportive, but she wasn’t immediately comfortable naming them.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, was initially hesitant about the language when it was first proposed in 2014, but now says he supports the proposed plank.
“Log Cabin Republicans is committed to expunging anti-gay language from the Republican Party platform, and we support the work our allies at American Unity Fund and Platform Reform are doing to achieve that end. I’ve long said that with platforms, less is always more,” Angelo said. “Removing any mention of a quixotic and politically divisive Federal Marriage Amendment from the GOP platform would be a welcome development at the convention.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who’s considered the strongest Republican supporter of LGBT rights, wouldn’t explicitly endorse the proposed language, but said the Republican Party platform should take into account the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage.
“This convention is taking place in 2016, not 1916, so I sincerely hope our party platform includes language that is inclusive and accepting of all people,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Marriage equality is now the law of the land and the GOP should reflect the changes in our society instead of wishing them away.”
Neither the anti-LGBT Family Research Council nor the National Organization for Marriage responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether they object to the proposed language in the platform.
Henry said she doesn’t think there’s a specific concerted effort to offset the platform campaign, but acknowledged Republicans designated to the platform committee in years past “will be dedicated to keeping the language as it is.”
One major obstacle to the reform is the Republican presidential nominee, whose views are typically reflected in the platform. Each of the 2016 candidates is opposed to same-sex marriage. Some candidates high in the polls, like Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, have publicly backed a U.S. constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage.
Henry was undaunted by the prospects of those candidates becoming the Republican nominee, saying many of their supporters disagree with them on marriage and she’s working with every presidential campaign.
“In some states, there are Ted Cruz supporters who may disagree with him on this issue, but agree with him because of his stance on ethanol, taxes and other things,” Henry said. “And if that’s the case, we want to make sure those people are on his delegate slate. That’s where, I think, really working on the ground in each of the different states with the people who want to be delegates for the campaign is critical. We’ll have delegates from every campaign.”
A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee told the Blade that platform discussions won’t begin “until well into 2016.”
Advocates want Equality Act in platforms
Other LGBT advocates had proposals for LGBT language they wanted in both the Republican and Democratic party platforms, but weren’t as specific in terms of language.
Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, said the platforms provide an opportunity for the parties to step up their support for LGBT rights and support for marriage equality isn’t enough.
“A party platform that includes anything less than a call for full federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people and their families will be seen as weak, behind the times and not honoring the contributions that LGBTQ people make to society,” Carey said.
Carey also had a litany of legislative priorities she wants in the platforms, including support for the Equality Act, in the name of “freedom, justice and equality to everyone in the U.S.”
“The parties should include explicit support for the Equality Act, comprehensive immigration reform, reproductive rights, wage and workplace reforms, criminal justice reform, the restoration of voting rights, and policing reform,” Carey said. “We also urge parties not to play to the opponents of equality. There are millions of LGBTQ and ally votes out there — enough votes to swing elections at every level and our support should not be taken for granted.”
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said platforms are “symbolic and dull tools for policy change,” but have worth in shedding light on issues important to communities, including transgender people.
“All policy areas are trans policy areas, but of particular interest to NCTE would be making sure that parties do not include negative mentions, scapegoating or fear mongering of trans people,” Keisling said. “On the proactive policy side, we would love to see a commitment to advancing, solidifying and enforcing civil rights laws such as supporting the passage of the Equality Act.”
Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans, was more general about the kind of LGBT inclusion he said his organization seeks in the party platforms.
“Democrats and Republicans alike should support the American values of building stable families and protecting freedom, both of which are strengthened when all hardworking Americans can live and work without fear of discrimination,” McTighe said. “Taking steps to ensure explicit protections for gay, bisexual and transgender people throughout the country is good for our country’s well-being and prosperity. Both the Democratic and Republican presidential platforms should move towards a place of fairness and freedom for all people under the law.”
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Blade in June she expects inclusion of the Equality Act in the 2016 platform, saying, “I would expect so. I can’t envision our platform not including that.”
(The DNC is now pushing back on that characterization, saying Wasserman Schultz isn’t responsible for the platform and that she didn’t say she’s expecting language on the Equality Act, but instead that she would be surprised if it isn’t in there. The Blade stands by its reporting.)
TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said the process for drafting the platform changes each cycle and is still underway. Each state has to elect its participants to the convention by June 26, including for the platform committee, which will initiate the drafting process, he said.
“I think as the chairwoman said to you when you interviewed her, I think we’d be surprised if there weren’t that kind of inclusion in the platform in terms of the Equality Act specifically given the support the Equality Act has from our three presidential candidates, and the president and the vice president and 80 percent of Democratic members of Congress,” Helmstetter said. “But again, that really is dependent on the platform process.”
The Human Rights Campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests this week from the Washington Blade to comment on what the organization would like to see in the 2016 party platforms.
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