Texas GOP’s endorsement of ‘ex-gay therapy’ reflects party’s LGBT divide

Photo: Ted Cruz. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

Photo: Ted Cruz. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

If there were any clearer indication of the work that remains to bring the Republican Party’s position on LGBT rights in line with the views of a majority of Americans, it came out of Texas this past weekend.

It was there, at the Forth Worth Convention Center on Saturday, that about 7,000 delegates at the Texas GOP Convention ratified an official party platform that endorses “reparative therapy” for gay people. According to the new plank of the platform, the Texas Republican Party now recognizes the “legitimacy and value of counseling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle.”

The adoption of language supporting therapy that has been deemed junk science by every major medical and mental health organization comes after two states with Democratic and Republican governors have banned such practices on minors by licensed therapists, and flies in the face of efforts by the national Republican Party to become more inclusive after a series of electoral defeats.

In September 2012, California became the first state in the nation to outlaw such therapy. “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” said Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in a statement upon signing the bill into law. In August, New Jersey became the second state to ban ex-gay therapy for minors. Gov. Chris Christie, a likely candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, said, “Exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these serious risks is not appropriate.” 

Last week, a New Jersey judge ruled that a conversion therapy group might be liable for the costs to repair the damage it inflicted on four former patients.

Bipartisan support for banning ex-gay therapy is significant. After all, such laws essentially profess a consensus among lawmakers that being gay is not a choice, thus raising serious questions about how other civil rights, such as marriage equality, can be denied to gay people. But with the adoption of the platform by the Texas Republican Party, addressing ex-gay therapy in the Lone Star State has become anything but bipartisan.

“No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy,” states the draft of the platform considered at the convention.

Christie came in 11th place in the convention’s 2016 presidential straw poll with just 1.3 percent of the vote, while Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in first, with 43.4 percent of the vote.

As reported by the Associated Press, the tea party group Texas Eagle Forum pushed for adoption of the language and, while some had sought to speak out against that plank of the platform, they were not given the chance to address delegates before a vote on the entire party platform was held.

Although language adopted in 2012 stating “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit” was removed from the platform, the updated document states, “Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples.”

Moreover, the platform voices opposition to “the assault on marriage by judicial activists.” Last February, a federal judge found a constitutional amendment approved by Texas voters in 2005 defining marriage between a man and a woman, as well as portion of Texas Family Code, denies same-sex couples equal protection and due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — a decision that was blasted by Gov. Rick Perry (R). However, a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Friday found 56 percent of Americans support allowing gays and lesbians to marry, with 38 percent opposed. Moreover, echoing many of the court rulings that have been handed down in the past year, 50 percent of Americans believe that the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry.

While many Republican politicians appear increasingly unwilling to waste political capital fighting LGBT rights, that does not seem to be the case in Texas. Just last month, Pennsylvania’s GOP Gov. Tom Corbett announced he would not appeal a federal court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in his state, and Rep. Charlie Dent (Penn.) became the third Republican in the House of Representatives to openly endorse marriage equality. Meanwhile, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during a radio interview that “anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn’t been observing what’s going on.”

According to Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, the pursuit of anti-gay language in the Texas GOP’s platform has proven to be a major distraction from the issues at hand. “Over the last week, I’ve seen literally over 100 stories about so-called ‘ex-gay’ therapy in the platform, and exactly zero stories exclusively devoted to Greg Abbott picking up the nomination for governor,” Angelo told Metro Weekly. “The people who inserted this language into the platform aren’t medical doctors or mental health professionals, and they have no business pushing their opinion onto the lives of gay Texans.”

At a press conference prior to the convention, Log Cabin Republicans and Log Cabin Republicans of Texas joined with Metroplex Republicans to call on the Texas GOP to allow the groups booths at the convention. At the time, Angelo warned the exclusion of a “literal seat at the table” for gay Republicans at the convention speaks to a deeper issue that threatens to turn Texas blue.

“Make no mistake: This isn’t about disagreements we may have on civil marriage; this isn’t about the party platform — this is about an anti-gay wing of the party that hates gay people so much they can’t even stand to see us acknowledged as a necessary part of a winning Republican coalition,” Angelo said in a statement. “At a time when Democrats are working overtime to turn Texas from red to purple and then a vibrant blue, now is not the time for the politics of subtraction and division in the GOP; it is time for addition and multiplication. The Texas State GOP and its leadership ignore that advice at their peril.”

Texas Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott will face the Democratic nominee, Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis, in November. During a Human Rights Campaign PAC and Texas Equity PAC event Friday in Austin, Davis remarked on the controversy over the Texas GOP’s platform.

“We know what they really believe and think about people who don’t look like them or come from where they come from,” Davis said during remarks posted on YouTube. “And we also know, as a consequence of what’s been going on with their decisions and their platform on LGBT rights, exactly where their values are in that regard.”

Those remarks from Davis appear to demonstrate the exact kind of political fodder Angelo warned Republicans would supply Democrats with by adopting an anti-gay platform.

“Advocates of putting an endorsement of ‘ex-gay’ therapy into the platform say that it’s a response to the bans on ‘reparative’ therapy that passed in California and New Jersey last year, but there are no such bans being called for in Texas, so this is a solution in search of a problem,” Angelo said. “If the Texas GOP is worried about what a bunch of Democrats in New Jersey and California are doing, then the party has a lot more to worry about than this so-called ‘therapy.’”

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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