Story highlights

Both sides blamed the other for bringing the party to this point

After the group revealed they planned to file a minority report to take it to the floor, the plan collapsed

Cleveland CNN  — 

Republicans working this week efforts to hammer out a platform representing the heart of the GOP kept coming back to one topic: LGBT issues.

Through hours of debate on topics ranging from federal lands to immigration to the economy to family values, a handful of delegates gathered for Platform Committee meetings ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention repeatedly challenged their peers to moderate provisions affecting gay and lesbian Americans.

They were for the most part rebuffed by the 112-member panel, which approved a GOP platform that opposes same-sex marriage rights, supports efforts to restrict bathrooms to individuals’ birth gender and protects businesses who refuse services to individuals based on religious objections to gay marriage.

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The two days of nationally broadcast, uncomfortable votes exposed a deep divide in the Republican Party over its staunch social conservatism, culminating in a dramatic effort to force the issue on the convention floor and counter cries of deceit.

At the heart of the effort was a group of delegates working with American Unity Fund, a pro-LGBT Republican advocacy group funded by billionaire Republican Paul Singer.

After failing repeatedly in their efforts, the group was buoyed by the number of delegates who voted in their favor, including about 20 delegates raising their hands in support of a proposal from D.C. delegate Rachel Hoff to revamp the party’s position on marriage to broaden the language to include “diverse” views on marriage and support the “strength of all families” While raising the amendment, Hoff also emotionally made public to her peers that she was gay.

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New York delegate Annie Dickerson said the GOP Platform Committee has been resisting an obvious trend in the country toward gay rights, calling same-sex marriage “settled law,” saying it is only a matter of time before federal nondiscrimination statutes protecting LGBT rights are enacted.

“This is going in only one direction, so that the platform committee of the GOP hasn’t caught up with it yet is unfortunate,” Dickerson told CNN. “I think in 20 years we’ll look at this as an unfortunate blot in the history of the Republican Party that there wasn’t an embrace for our brothers and sisters.”

Encouraged, the group began a whip operation to gather signatures on a proposal to send an alternative platform to the floor, linking up with an unrelated effort by Utah delegate Boyd Matheson to streamline the platform down to less than 1,200 words, essentially removing language specific to a host of policy issues including gay marriage.

But after the group revealed they had 37 signatures and planned to file a minority report to take it to the floor, the plan collapsed, with RNC staff late Tuesday bringing out Matheson to deliver a short statement rebuking the report he had signed and in part written, asking other delegates to abandon the effort as well.

“That effort has been hijacked at the last stages tonight by those who may use it for divisive purposes or for an agenda,” Matheson said. “I am officially taking my name off of those because this is becoming a divisive exercise, and I refuse to be part of that.”

As reporters shouted questions at Matheson about his change of heart, RNC staffers ushered him out of the room and cut off his attempts to respond.

Social conservatives hold the line on platform

Two delegates who had signed on to the effort said they did so under false pretenses.

“There is an organization trying to inject divisiveness into our Platform Committee,” Iowa delegate Ben Barringer said. “In the process of that, I was misled about a document … and I signed the document under false pretenses (while) being lied to.”

“This just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the whole thing,” said Maryland delegate Ben Marchi, who also decried the group behind it, especially Singer.

“That’s filth, those type of tactics, are just filth,” Marchi said of what he labeled deception. “I guess this guy, the money guy, who spent $6 million on this thing … if that in fact is true, that guy just did way more harm to his cause than if he had not done that.”

Hoff, however, called assertions that her group was manufacturing a problem in the party “simply untrue,” saying that the base of the Republican Party actually supports the GOP being more friendly to gay and lesbian Americans.

She said it was especially damaging the party with young people to be fighting so stridently to maintain what she called “very hurtful, very mean-spirited” language including declaring families without a married mother and father to be damaging to society and to children.

“It threatens our party because we’re a party of principle, we’re a party of freedom, liberty and equality and … we’re not in line with our own conservative principles,” Hoff told CNN. “But I also think it threatens the party on a political level, where on a demographic basis, what future will our party have if we are so out of touch with young Americans in particular?”

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Just as pro-LGBT amendments continued to be raised at the meeting, social conservatives continued to promote traditional marriage.

Hoff offered an amendment Tuesday morning to call out terrorists for targeting gay people, which was defeated, begging her colleagues: “Can you not at the very least stand up for the right for us not to be killed?”

Later, as delegates supported an amendment to insert language reiterating opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling that gay marriage is constitutionally protected, Dickerson said: “Has a dead horse been beaten enough yet?”

Dickerson told CNN the staunch opposition from the social conservatives making up the Platform Committee was based in fear.

“It’s just redundancy on top of redundancy,” Dickerson said. “They were fearful of us being here, fearful of it being brought up, fearful that gays are coming into having full rights to heterosexuals. I think it’s scary to some, and when you’re afraid, you repeat yourself.”

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Though they lost their amendment fights, Hoff pointed to fewer anti-LGBT elements in the overall platform – it no longer calls for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, for instance – and favorable language on employment nondiscrimination.

But with the meetings held for all to see, the process also produced plenty of awkward moments.

A remark from Dickerson about returning to the “21st century” prompted 22-year-old Virginia delegate Tommy Valentine to fire back.

“I really don’t appreciate the lady from New York implying the rest of us are bigots because we don’t agree with their view,” Valentine said.