Metro Weekly

Social conservatives declare war on pro-LGBT Republicans

Photo: Tony Perkins. Credit: Gage Skidmore/flickr.

Tony Perkins – Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr

The heads of three conservative groups announced a campaign to defeat three Republican candidates due to their views on LGBT-rights and abortion in a letter sent to Republican leaders Thursday.

The presidents of the National Organization for Marriage, Family Research Council and CitizenLink wrote that they will “actively oppose the election” of Carl DeMaio and Richard Tisei, who are both openly gay, to the U.S. House of Representatives and Monica Wehby to the U.S. Senate and will “mount a concerted effort to urge voters to refuse to cast ballots for them in the November election.”

“This decision was reached only after having exhausted all attempts to convince the Republican leadership of the grave error it was making in advancing candidates who do not hold core Republican beliefs and, in fact, are working to actively alienate the Republican base,” the letter states, while stating DeMaio, Tisei and Wehby are “antithetical to the Republican platform.”

The letter comes as DeMaio in California and Tisei in Massachusetts are vying to become the first openly gay Republican ever elected to the House. No openly gay Republican has ever been elected to Congress, although two Republicans — former Reps. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe of Arizona — have come out while serving in Congress. While Wehby is not gay, her campaign for the U.S. Senate from Oregon released a television ad earlier this month in which she endorsed same-sex marriage and appeared alongside one of the plaintiffs who sued Oregon over the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

What’s most remarkable about the letter, which was signed by Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, is that the three conservative leaders appear to rather see the two House seats and one Senate seat remain in Democratic control than to have voters send a Republican to Capitol Hill who supports LGBT-rights and abortion.

“We cannot in good conscience urge our members and fellow citizens to support candidates like DeMaio, Tisei or Wehby,” the letter states. “They are wrong on critical, foundational issues of importance to the American people. Worse, as occupants of high office they will secure a platform in the media to advance their flawed ideology and serve as terrible role models for young people who will inevitably be encouraged to emulate them.”

DeMaio served on the San Diego City Council and is seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Scott Peters in California’s 52nd Congressional District. Tisei, who served 26 years in the Massachusetts State Legislature, is facing Seth Moulton in Massachusetts’s 6th Congressional District after Moulton defeated Democratic incumbent John Tierney earlier this month. Wehby is seeking to unseat Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkely, a vocal supporter of LGBT-rights who assumed the role of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) as the champion of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the Senate, which approved ENDA 64-32 in November after the bill failed by one vote in 1996. 

The election of DeMaio, Tisei or Wehby wouldn’t mark the first pro-LGBT Republican in either chamber of Congress. In the Senate, Rob Portman (Ohio), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Susan Collin (Maine) have all openly expressed their support for marriage equality. In the House of Representatives, four Republicans have openly endorsed same-sex marriages: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Fla.), Richard Hanna (N.Y.), Charlie Dent (Pa.) and David Jolly (Fla.). Last November, 10 Senate Republicans voted for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — the most Senate Republicans to ever vote for a piece of gay rights legislation, let alone one that also protects transgender Americans.

But according to Brown, the three candidates’ opposition to key planks of the Republican Party platform, which opposes same-sex marriage and abortion, is reason enough for voters to reject their candidacies.

“The Republican Party platform is a ‘statement of who we are and what we believe.’ Thus, the platform supports the truth of marriage as the union of husband and wife, and recognizes the sanctity and dignity of human life. This is what Republicans believe,” Brown said in a statement. “It is extremely disappointing to see Republican leaders in Washington help push the election of candidates who reject the party’s principled positions on these and other core issues. We cannot sit by when people calling themselves Republicans seek high office while espousing positions that are antithetical to the overwhelming majority of Republicans.”

The letter is addressed to House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Greg Walden and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran. It comes one day before the Values Voter Summit, organized by the Family Research Council, is set to begin in Washington with speakers that include potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates Sens. Rand Paul (K.Y.) and Ted Cruz (Texas).

This isn’t the first time social conservatives have attempted to block the elections of DeMaio or Tisei. In December, reports surfaced that Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes was actively seeking to convince colleagues on Capitol Hill as well as the National Republican Congressional Committee, which donates to GOP congressional campaigns, to end their support for Republican candidates who are gay.

Asked during a press conference on Capitol Hill at the time of those reports whether he believes his party should support gay candidates, Boehner responded simply, “I do.” Boehner helped fundraise for Tisei during his first campaign against Tierney in 2012, which Tisei narrowly lost 47.1 percent to 48.3 percent.

Responding to Thursday’s letter, Tisei said in a statement, “The Republican Party should stand for freedom — all freedoms — and I am proud to continue this party’s tradition of fighting for liberty.” 

Social Conservatives Letter on Republican Candidates

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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