Some Texas Republicans Battle Over How to Oppose 'Homosexual Behavior' at State Convention

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Some Texas Republicans Battle Over How to Oppose ‘Homosexual Behavior’ at State Convention

By Jeremy Wallace | Houston Chronicle | June 15, 2018

SAN ANTONIO — Republican Party of Texas leaders like Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick used their statewide convention speeches to call for unity and growth Friday, but where gay Republicans fit in is still a very unsettled issue within GOP ranks behind the scenes.

Republican Party activists hotly debated over whether to remove key parts of their platform against “homosexual behavior” or strengthen the condemnations despite warnings that it could damage the party over the long term.

What started as a platform plank to oppose gay marriage early in the week, evolved into a much more harshly worded proposal that had about a dozen Republican activists speaking up in open meetings to block the message the party was on the brink of sending.

“We affirm God’s biblical design in the Bible for marriage between one biological man and one biological woman, which has proven to be the foundation for all great nations in Western Civilization,” platform item number 316 stated. “Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental truths that have been ordained by God in the Bible.”

That language was over the top for younger Republicans like 26-year-old San Antonio resident Justin Clark. He pleaded with a committee charged with setting the platform to strip that language from the official document before it made it to a full vote of the Republican Party of Texas on Saturday. Clark said he’s been drawn to the GOP since he was a child and has been active in the party all his life.

“How can we keep growing our Republican base when we are telling wide swaths of people that we don’t want them, their friends and their families,” Clark said.

He was hardly alone. Millennials, libertarian sections of the party and gay Republicans all rose up to push back against the proposal.

Houston resident Ashley Sobota said generations of potential voters will find the platform perplexing.

“This kind of language makes no sense to young people,” she warned. If the party doesn’t change it now, she warned, they can be assured younger voters will change it if given the chance in the future.

But other Republicans dug in further. MerryLynn Gerstenschlager, a Republican from Weatherford who sits on the platform committee, said the language was a reaction to what is happening in society with the homosexual community pushing their lifestyle on others rather than living “their quiet lives.”

“I believe this is pushback because this is being crammed down our throats,” Gerstenschlager said.

That pushed the platform committee hours later to adopt a different draft proposal that affirms that the part on “God’s biblical design for marriage” being between men and women, but removes the lines about homosexual behavior being contrary to fundamental truths.

“This is a compromise and this is what we should all applaud,” said Scott Apley, a Republican from Galveston County.

But it is hardly the last word. Other Republicans at the convention objected to how the language was changed in the platform.

Among them was Jack M. Finger, a San Antonio Republican, who greeted convention goers on Friday with a sign accusing the platform committee of diluting the document that is used as a guide for Republican leaders to follow.

“It deals with morality,” Finger said. “If you agree with the homosexual lifestyle, it is the antithesis to what we believe in.”

Finger said there will be an attempt on Saturday to re-amend the platform to get the language back into the platform.

For decades the Republican Party of Texas has had such debates, but those issues have taken on a different feel since the GOP passed rules that can allow activists in the party to publicly censure members for not following the platform and the party’s core principles.

Earlier this year, the party leadership censured House Speaker Joe Straus for among other things, obstructing the so-called bathroom bill to bar people who are transgender from using the bathroom they are most comfortable with, even if it doesn’t correspond to the gender on their birth certificate. His opposition was deemed as opposition to “core principles” of the party platform.

Straus has lamented the censure process the party is following.

“Unfortunately, many of the people who come to a summertime convention are for a smaller narrower party, and that’s a problem that you get past in the convention,” Straus said.

He’s not alone in that conclusion. Dave Nalle, a Republican from Austin, said the platform shouldn’t be seen as the view of the larger Republican Party in Texas. He said the document always has an outdated feel that has him and others advocating for a much smaller core platform that won’t push away so many potential Republicans voters.

“It does nothing to help us as a party,” he said.

The debate comes at a contentious time for the gay community. While the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right to gay marriage, it has also defended the rights of a wedding cake artist in Colorado who refused to decorate a cake for a gay couple because of his religious beliefs.

How to broaden the party’s appeal with younger voters and the platform has been a big issue even in the battle for who will be the chairman for the next two years. Cindy Asche, a candidate from Frisco, called for the GOP to better reach out to younger voters and to trim down the platform. She said provisions about raw milk production and hemp have make little sense.

But Asche lost to Republican Party of Texas chairman James Dickey, who has repeatedly defended the platform as a key document he constantly references with people ask for the party’s positions on a host of issues.

“Our platform is very well thought out,” Dickey said before winning his re-election as chairman. “My goal is to grow the party and grow our influence.”

How effective that might be with gay voters could become clearer on Saturday when the party will vote on its platform.

On Friday, both Abbott and Patrick highlighted the need for party unity heading into the 2018 election cycle in their speeches to nearly 9,000 delegates in San Antonio, which meet once every two years to pick a leader and set the platform.

“The Democrats insist that a so-called “blue wave” is coming to Texas,” Abbott said. “But come November, we’re going to show them that Texas values are not up for grabs.”

Patrick said the GOP needs to be unified going into November and believes it will be. He said too many critics think there is a big divide in the party, but it isn’t so.

“There is no civil war in our party,” Patrick said.


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