‘Freedom for everyone’

    As expected, the Republican platform committee has geared up for the impending national convention by endorsing Todd Akin’s stance on abortion (impregnated rape victims should be compelled by government to give birth). But to truly appreciate the party’s extremism, just check out the Tuesday debate over gay civil unions.

    Actually, it wasn’t much of a debate. A few brave souls told the 112-member platform panel that the party of personal freedom and family values would be wise to endorse gay civil unions – not gay marriage, but merely the notion that committed gay couples should have the same legal rights (on hospital visitation, wills, etc.) as straight couples. Somebody even invoked Dick Cheney, who, in support of gay couples, has said, “Freedom means freedom for everyone.”

    The debate was over within minutes. The civil union idea was shouted down in a voice vote. End of story – thereby demonstrating, yet again, that the ideologues who craft the GOP platform are profoundly disconnected from the American mainstream.

    Granted, very few voters pay attention to platform planks. Very few voters rank gay civil unions as a top-tier issue. But yesterday’s thumbs-down verdict was just one more symptom of the GOP’s broad-based intolerance, its faith-based desire to turn back the clock. In a close election, swing voters may not necessarily warm to that kind of mentality.

    The problem is, the GOP is locked into that mentality – as evidenced by the brief discussion of gay civil unions. Barbara Fenton, a 31-year-old Rhode Island delegate, raised a ruckus when she said that the party’s traditional hostility toward gays was woefully out of step with peers in her age group: “For my generation, a lot of times homosexuality isn’t the biggest deal in the world anymore.”

    That’s reality, as long documented by every poll. Young voters already support gay marriage (in addition to civil unions) by strong majorities. Each year the GOP says no to that sentiment, it falls further out of step with the kids.

    Fenton also said it was wrong for the party to keep opposing civil unions on moral/religious grounds; in her words, “This country was founded on the separation of church and state.” (You can imagine how the platform committee reacted to that argument.)

    Fenton got some support from a Nevada delegate who dared to read a letter from a group that calls itself Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry. (Now there’s a group with a thankless task.) The letter to the platform committee stated: “The freedom to marry is in line with our core belief in limited government and individual freedom… Giving people more personal freedom is the foundation of the Republican party… If we truly believe in family values, then we must value all families.”

    Then the platform committee bigwigs went to work. Kris Kobach, the Kansas attorney general and a Mitt Romney adviser, said the government should bar civil unions just like it prohibits lots of other things – “like, for example, the use of controlled substances, like, for example, polygamy that is voluntarily entered into.” (Wait, was he really likening gay unions to drug use and polygamy? You decide.)

    James Bopp, another Romney adviser and one of the nation’s top anti-abortion strategists, slam-dunked Fenton and the Young Conservatives by dismissing civil unions as a form of “counterfeit marriage.” And Tony Perkins, the religious right leader who runs the Family Research Council, said that “traditional marriage” is a societal cornerstone and that the party can’t adopt a civil union plank because… well… because it never has before. (“This would move the party away immensely from the position this party has held.”)

    I have two reactions:

    1. Tony Perkins is on the GOP platform committee?! That says it all. It’s his world; the rest of the party only lives in it.

    2. It’s not 1955 anymore. Today, a lot of straight people in “traditional marriages” view gay civil union as no big deal. The ideologues in the platform committee may still think it’s a big deal, but landslide majorities of Americans do not.

    According to the CBS News-New York Times poll in May, 62 percent think that gay unions – either full marriage or legal rights – should be recognized by law. Among swing-voting independents, that share was also 62 percent. According to a CNN/ORC poll in 2009, 60 percent of adults agreed that states should “allow gay and lesbian couples to form civil unions which would give them some of the legal rights of gay couples.” And according to an ABC News-Washington Post poll in 2010, 66 percent agreed that gays should be allowed “to form legally recognized civil unions, giving them the legal rights of married couples in areas such as heath insurance, inheritance, and pension coverage.”

    But the voice vote was swift and unequivocal yesterday; down went civil unions – and the concept of “giving more people personal freedom,” as the inclusive Young Conservatives framed it.

    One of these days, I can almost imagine Dick Cheney shaking his head and wondering, “Why does the Republican party hate freedom?”

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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