The Republican National Convention…have strongly supported the opposite-sex [i.e., male/female] definition of marriage. The party’s last platform, adopted in 2012, warned that judicial redefinition of marriage is ‘an assault on the foundations of our society, challenging the institution which, for thousands of years in virtually every civilization, has been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.’” George Weaver
The Republican National Convention in July may or may not have a presidential nomination battle, but it will certainly have a fight over the 2016 Republican Platform. Since 1992, Republican platforms, adopted every four years, have strongly supported the opposite-sex definition of marriage. The party’s last platform, adopted in 2012, warned that judicial redefinition of marriage is “an assault on the foundations of our society, challenging the institution which, for thousands of years in virtually every civilization, has been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.”
Now, several gay rights groups are working to remove commitment to traditional marriage from the 2016 Republican Platform. Among them: Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, Log Cabin Republicans, and the American Unity Fund. Evan Wolfson, a Harvard-educated lawyer who is now in a same-sex marriage, has been a prime proponent of redefinition ever since the first lawsuit in Hawaii 25 years ago, and he is not content with court victories. He told me, “The party should eliminate the anti-gay language laced throughout the platform and should live up to its professed values of freedom, limited government, and support for families—the values that argue for the freedom to marry.”
Some leaders who have fought for laws defining marriage as between a man and woman are fiercely opposed. “If the party makes a substantial change on issues like life or marriage, it will be disastrous, because whatever they think they gain, they’re wrong,” former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee recently told The Steve Malzberg Show. “I think a flood tide of people will just give up on the GOP and say they’re not different than the Democrats.” Groups like the National Organization for Marriage are also opposed: Frank Schubert, its national political director, says his organization is “determined to see the rightful definition of marriage restored” and is “counting on the Republican Party to maintain its commitment in this battle.”
Each state will choose two delegates who will help write the 2016 Republican Platform. The platform’s content will be greatly influenced by the views of the eventual Republican nominee for president—if the nominee is known before the platform is adopted. Presidential candidate Donald Trump says the party should move on: “You have to go with it. The decision’s been made, and that is the law of the land.” Candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, though, calls the day the Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, last year’s case striking down traditional marriage laws, one of the “darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.” Cruz promises to fight to restore the male-female definition and return to the states the power to define marriage.
If Trump is the nominee, the chances increase that the Republican Party will eliminate the defense of traditional marriage from its platform. With Cruz as the nominee, the party will likely retain its commitment to male-female marriage. If John Kasich becomes the nominee, the platform may migrate toward his view that the marriage issue is settled.
Like the candidates, Republican leaders have not been united in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Despite previous Republican platforms, many Republican officials—among them Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Brian Sandoval of Nevada—have said they “personally” support the opposite-sex definition but will not stand against judicial redefinition. Other prominent Republicans, such as former Solicitor General Ted Olson, have pushed to strike down marriage definition laws. More than 300 top Republican officials joined an amicus brief in Obergefell urging the Supreme Court to create a constitutional right to homosexual marriage. Republican presidents and governors have appointed many of the judges who have struck down marriage laws.
If some members of this year’s Platform Committee push to remove traditional marriage, at least one member is likely to push back: Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, was influential four years ago in getting strong marriage language into the platform and is serving on the committee again this year.