GOP platform fight gets heated over LGBT rights

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CLEVELAND — Republicans crafting a party platform on Monday argued over religious liberty, gay marriage and LGBT rights, highlighting divisions in the party over social issues.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Platform Committee, floated in and out of conference rooms at the cavernous Huntington Convention Center to oversee the skirmishes that broke out among delegates over the party’s policy planks.

The most heated exchanges took place in a subcommittee responsible for laying out the GOP platform on social issues.

{mosads}The majority of the panel was made up of hard-line social conservatives such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. Perkins and other social conservatives on the panel had a strong enough majority to push through the bulk of the measures they sought.

But the Perkins wing was met with vocal opposition from Annie Dickerson, an adviser to billionaire GOP donor Paul Singer, who is a proponent of same-sex marriage and other issues championed by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Dickerson fumed as her socially liberal proposals went down and the socially conservative measures she opposed sailed through the subcommittee. 

At one point, Dickerson, who has adopted children, accused others on the committee of “blatant discrimination” over an amendment that would keep publicly funded adoption agencies from giving custody of children to gay couples.

“We need children to be adopted, so hooray to the gay community for trying to raise children in a happy and stable home,” Dickerson said. “I object to allowing patent discrimination against gays over the right to adopt. … This is blatant discrimination and should not be in our platform.”

Dickerson lost that battle and essentially every other battle she waged. At times she stared down Perkins and expressed exasperation after votes went against her.

“Unbelievable,” she said after the adoption measure passed.

The 16-member subcommittee, made up of 13 women and three men, rejected Dickerson’s request to remove language in the platform that “salutes” states like North Carolina for passing controversial bathroom laws that critics say discriminate against transgender people.

She protested language that said the party supports “traditional marriage and the families a husband and wife create,” arguing instead for a provision that said children should be “raised in a loving and stable home.”

And she argued against having language in the platform that opposes the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

“They’re not going to change the ruling,” Dickerson said. “I know it’s hard, but that’s the law of the land.”

But Dickerson was overpowered every step of the way, winning only occasional support from a handful of other women on the panel.

One delegate cited the Ten Commandments to argue against Dickerson’s proposal to remove language from the platform about how a “mother and father” provide the best environment in which to raise children.

“The social code of justice for the last 5,000 years is based on the Ten Commandments, which says ‘mother and father,’ ” the delegate said. 

“I just don’t think you can dispute that.”

Later, in front of the full Platform Committee, Washington, D.C., delegate Rachel Hoff, the only openly gay member on the 112-member committee, made an impassioned plea to adopt softer language on gay marriage.

“We’re your daughters, your sons, your neighbors, colleagues and the couples you sit next to you in church,” Hoff said, fighting back tears. “Freedom means freedom for everyone, including for gays and lesbians.”

But her proposal was shot down after almost no debate.

In fact, all of the proposals put forth by the social conservatives won out easily in the vote at the end of the day, while all of those put forth by Dickerson and her allies were quickly dismissed.

Discussions about social issues also sprang up in the subcommittee tasked with developing the party’s economic plank.

Ohio delegate David Johnson, who owns a small business in the state, criticized what he characterized as federal government overreach in responding to recent transgender bathroom laws.

“I hope we’re not getting this politically correct crap about transgender bathrooms,” he said during a debate about how to word a business nondiscrimination clause. “Any press person who comes to me and says, ‘Do you support that?’ My answer is no. If we’re telling employers to make provisions for 16 different people—”

“You’d have 16 different bathrooms,” another delegate said.

“However, we do support nondiscrimination,” responded Andy Puzder, chairman of the subcommittee and CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardees brands.

Republican Party leaders are working to hammer out a platform that stays true to core conservative principles while also fitting the mold of their unconventional presumptive presidential nominee and the nation’s rapidly changing culture.

Many social conservatives feel they’re on the defensive, as gay marriage has become legal and laws meant to protect religious views have created backlash.

And there is a contingent of Christian conservatives who remain unconvinced that their presumed standard-bearer, Donald Trump, can be a trusted ally on issues important to them.

Trump only recently came out against abortion. He has said he will be a champion for gay rights and that a transgender person should be free to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Perkins, who has not endorsed Trump, downplayed the intraparty squabble on Monday.

“I have not seen much division here,” he said. “Look, I’m a Baptist. You ought to see the debates we have. It’s all very cordial and part of the process. … There’s a lot of unity here surrounding the understanding and the need to win the White House in this coming election, and that’s what will unify this party.”

And he pushed back at the notion that there is a split between the religious right and Trump on social issues.

Perkins said the Trump campaign has not meddled in the platform fight and is instead letting the delegates do what they were elected to do.

“We’ve not seen any heavy-handedness or pushing and shoving,” he said.

Perkins also argued that Trump and the party are on the same page about transgender bathroom laws.

Trump has said he’s fine with a transgender person using whatever bathroom they’re more comfortable with in one of his buildings. But he isn’t advocating for the federal government to mandate other companies follow suit, Perkins said.

That wasn’t the only example of perceived disagreement between the party and its presumptive nominee, though.

A panel that met to determine the economic plank removed the only mention of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after committee members couldn’t agree on the best way to address the issue.

Trump has made his opposition to the TPP and other international trade deals one of the cornerstones of his campaign.

At the platform subcommittee hearing, Puzder sounded more in line with the business wing of the party, which has long supported international free trade agreements.

“We need trade,” Puzder said. “Donald Trump says we need trade. He’s been interpreted as anti-trade, [but he’s saying] we don’t need massive trade deficits and we need better-negotiated deals and to enforce the deals that we have.”

Johnson fired back:

“The presumptive nominee has stated that he’s opposed to TPP, and trade is a major issue in this election,” he said. “Wall Street likes TPP, but 70 percent of employees and small businesses don’t like it, and I’m not happy about my congressman, who voted for early approval for that.”

The committee agreed to remove the specific reference to the TPP, instead inserting language to say the party opposes any attempts by a lame-duck Congress to push through “significant trade agreements.”

Updated at 8:59 p.m.

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