The Republican Party is backing two openly gay candidates for Congress a year after releasing its infamous “autopsy” report chronicling the need to court LGBT Americans along with people of color and women.
The move toward inclusion isn’t sitting well with the party’s socially conservative base.
In a letter to GOP leaders in late September, several right-wing groups wrote that they intend to do their best to make sure Congress stays straight, and that they will make a “concerted effort” against three Republican candidates they say threaten the party base.
The letter, written by the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, and a group called CitizenLink, also denounces the candidacy of Oregon Senate candidate Monica Wehby, who similarly supports abortion access and marriage equality.
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“We cannot in good conscience urge our members and fellow citizens to support candidates like DeMaio, Tisei or Wehby. They are wrong on critical, foundational issues of importance to the American people,” the letter reads. “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.”
Aside from worrying about how their ideology might rub off on young Republicans, the conservative groups wrote that the candidates are alienating the Republican base.
“Carl DeMaio, Richard Tisei and Monica Wehby are antithetical to the Republican platform,” said the letter, addressed to GOP leaders, including John Boehner and Mitch McConnell.
GOP leaders aren’t the only conservatives advocating for a change in the party’s traditional anti-gay marriage message. Six in ten Republicans under 30 are in favor of same-sex marriage, according to a Pew study. Republican support for gay marriage has increased to 30 percent, from 21 percent in 2001.
“Undeniably, over the course of the last two years, we’ve seen Republicans embracing a new sensitivity for LGBT issues,” a Republican strategist with knowledge of gay issues told Rewire. “The people who are opposed to openly gay Republicans running for office in the GOP [now] represent outliers within the party.”
Republican lawmakers and candidates alike have also changed their tune on what was once party dogma. Candidate for Senate Cory Gardner (R-CO), for example, recently backed off his support for a “personhood” amendment, saying it “was a bad idea driven by good intentions.”
Similarly, Sen. Rob Portman gained notoriety in 2013 after saying he supports gay marriage.
The party has in many ways remained openly hostile to actual equality—blocking the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and a bill that would give benefits to gay and lesbian veterans with same-sex spouses, and defending the Defense of Marriage Act, among other legislative moves.