‘We want a home, too’
A Trump-supporting Republican confronts his party on same-sex marriage
BRENTWOOD, New Hampshire – Jim Morgan is a Republican who runs a semiconductor company, serves on his town council and supports President Donald Trump’s reelection. He’s also gay.
And this year, he’s on a crusade: trying to persuade his fellow New Hampshire Republicans to remove the language in the state’s party platform that defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman.
On a frigid Saturday morning in January, this mission takes Morgan and his husband, Paul Michael Freitas, to the auditorium of a nursing home here in Brentwood, where the Rockingham County Young Republicans are gathering to discuss the platform ahead of the state’s GOP convention in May.
“I’m up here because my kids don’t understand why I’m a Republican,” Morgan, 53, says of his two adult children as nearly two dozen activists listen to his pitch. “What I’m asking you to consider is that the marriage definition is an insult to my marriage, plain and simple.”
We Count: Untold Voters Stories
As America prepares to make its choice in the 2020 elections, CNN ventured into the lives of voters around the country who are often overlooked in the traditional narratives about politics. In this installment, we visit the early voting state of New Hampshire, where a gay Republican is challenging his party on its same-sex marriage stance.
“Let’s prove we are the big-tent party.”
As a gay Republican, Morgan defies the national pattern. CNN’s exit polls in the 2018 midterm elections, for instance, show 63% of LGBT voters identified as Democrats and 27% as independent or something else. Just 10% of those surveyed said they were Republicans.
And while support for same-sex marriage has grown, fewer than half (44%) of Republicans and Republican-leaning independent voters support it, a 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center found. By contrast, three-quarters of Democrats and Democratic leaners back same-sex marriage.
Freitas, a 30-year-old photographer and digital marketer, says that sometimes can make the Republican Party a lonely place for him, even though he’s a registered Republican, married to someone active in GOP politics and shares common cause with the party on issues such as gun rights and allowing conservatives more of a voice on college campuses.
“I feel politically homeless at times,” he says.
Morgan’s 24-year-old daughter, Zoe, a political independent who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and works for a video game company, is befuddled by her father’s GOP activism. “When I go home to visit them, I’m visiting my Dads,” she says. “So to have someone be part of a party that doesn’t accept or recognize their marriage is difficult to understand.”
“When it’s legal all across the country, why are we still arguing about it?”
Moderate Republican and Trump supporter
Morgan sits in his spacious office in Londonderry, about an hour north of Boston, surrounded by photos and memorabilia celebrating the New England Patriots, team quarterback Tom Brady and legendary Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz.
Leaning back on his couch, he says he first became interested in Republican politics as a high school student in neighboring Massachusetts, watching Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the White House.
“I’m a Reagan moderate Republican,” he says. “I believe in smaller government, less taxes, less regulation and a strong national defense.”
Morgan, who is in his second term on the Derry Town Council, also supports Trump. He shares many of the President’s views on the economy, trade and immigration.
And, he notes, “I was raised to support the president, no matter who that president is.”
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump cast himself as a champion of gay rights. In his speech accepting the Republican presidential nomination that year, for instance, he denounced the mass shooting that had killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando the previous month. The killer, Omar Mateen, was an American who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.
“As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” Trump said, becoming the first GOP standard-bearer to elevate gay rights in a nomination address.
But critics say Trump’s administration has sided with the evangelical Christians who helped secure his victory, as it has moved to dismantle policies that benefit the LGBTQ community.
During his three years in office, those actions have included moving to restrict transgender recruits from joining the military and to rescind protections for transgender students that allowed them to use bathrooms that corresponded with their gender identities along with rolling back an Obama-era rule intended to protect transgender people from discrimination in health care.
“The Trump-Pence White House is the most anti-LGBTQ White House in modern history,” says Charlotte Clymer of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights organization.
“They have spent the last three years attacking LGBTQ people on a daily basis.”
Morgan says he agrees with some of Trump’s controversial positions, such as the Pentagon’s transgender policy. It requires troops to adhere to their genders assigned at birth while in the service and bars from joining those who require treatment for gender dysphoria, a condition in which there is a conflict between someone’s assigned gender and the gender with which they identify.
“I know several transgender people who went through transition,” Morgan says. “It’s a very difficult process. It’s very involved, and I’m not convinced that people should sign up to go into the military and then have the government pay for those services.”
The New Hampshire chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, which Morgan chairs, has endorsed Trump’s reelection – as has the national Log Cabin Republicans, which bills itself as the nation’s largest group representing LGBTQ Republicans and their allies. The national group had declined to endorse Trump in 2016.
In defending the President, Trump’s supporters point to his pledge to end the spread of HIV/AIDS in a decade and his appointment of a gay man, Richard Grenell, to serve as US ambassador to Germany. Grenell also is overseeing the administration’s global effort to decriminalize homosexuality in nearly 70 countries.
This cycle’s endorsement by the national Log Cabin group exposed a sharp divide among LGBTQ Republicans and their allies.
Jennifer Horn resigned her seat on the national board over the endorsement. In a letter to the Log Cabin leaders at the time, Horn, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairwoman, said Trump’s “regular verbal assaults against women, immigrants, elected members of Congress” and others “subvert the founding principles of our great nation.”
In a telephone interview with CNN last month, Horn said she joined the Log Cabin Republican board as a straight ally because she wanted to add her “voice to the civil rights movement of our day.”
“I don’t understand how any organization that says that’s what their founding purpose is can turn around and endorse Donald Trump,” said Horn, who now serves as an adviser to an anti-Trump super PAC called The Lincoln Project.
“The Log Cabin Republicans have gone down the same path that every other organized Republican committee or organization has gone down,” Horn added. “They have decided they would rather have access to perceived power than stand on principle.”
Charles Moran, the managing director of the national Log Cabin group, said the 2020 endorsement has helped give the group a voice inside the Trump administration and allowed it to work more closely with the President’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.
“We’ve been brought in on the policy level. We are being brought in at the political level,” says Moran, who served as an LGBTQ surrogate for Trump’s 2016 campaign. “Our seat at the table has reappeared.” As an example, Moran cited his attendance, along with Log Cabin Chairman Bob Kabel, at a special meeting of the US Mission to the United Nations last December.
At the gathering, Grenell and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft publicly criticized countries that criminalize same-sex relationships.
For his part, Morgan says Horn long has harbored “a personal hatred for Donald Trump.”
“Let’s face it, the President has made comments in the past that have been derogatory towards women. I can imagine that as a woman that would probably make me very concerned about the person that’s leading the country.”
“I just don’t put feelings into those things. I look at policy,” he says. “I look at what we’ve done on immigration. What we’ve done on trade. I’m in a business that sells internationally. NAFTA was terrible, horrible. Trump has fixed that.”
Personal and political journey
Morgan’s entrepreneurship is central to his life story. And as he travels the state, he reels off his resume before Republican groups in presentations that feel like early versions of stump speeches.
He started his first business as a teenager, skipping college to run a bakery before joining the semiconductor firm where his dad worked as an engineer. By the time he was 20, he had persuaded his father to join him in their own startup.
He married in his 20s and had two children.
But, in an interview, Morgan grows more personal. He says he reached a turning point in 2005, the year his brother Henry died of cancer caused by HIV complications. Before he died, Henry “looked at me and he said, ‘Live your life for you. Don't live your life for somebody else.’ “
Two years later, he had sold his first semiconductor business and had begun unraveling his marriage of 17 years. “I took a step back and realized … that I love my wife, but I'm not in love with my wife and I can't do this.”
In 2007, he met Freitas. They married in 2011 and maintain close ties with Morgan’s ex-wife and children.
“We met the same way all gay people in New Hampshire meet: online,” Freitas says.
“We both swiped right!” Morgan adds, grinning.
Morgan first dabbled in politics in 2000, joining a coalition that successfully advocated for the creation of a high school in Bedford, New Hampshire, and ended the long tradition of sending students to the nearby city of Manchester.
But he has become more deeply engaged in politics in recent years. In 2016, he won his seat on the town council in Derry, where he now lives. He served a stint as finance chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party in 2018, before taking the helm of the state’s Log Cabin chapter last year.
“Maybe someday,” he says when asked whether he has his sights on higher office. He thinks running for Congress or governor would be “viable political options” in the future.
Morgan says he’s been called a “traitor” and “despicable” for his Republican activism. “People feel like that if you are gay, you have to be a Democrat. ‘You can’t vote for a Republican. They’ll take your rights away,’“ he says.
“My answer to that is we need people on both sides of the aisle.”
Evolution on same-sex marriage
In 2009, state lawmakers voted to make New Hampshire the sixth state to legalize gay marriage – six years before it would become the law of the land with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples under the 14th Amendment.
In 2018, the state barred licensed therapists and mental health counselors from practicing so-called gay conversion therapy for minors, one of just 14 states to do so, according to the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
That same year, state voters elected Democrat Chris Pappas, New Hampshire’s first member of Congress who publicly identifies as gay. (This year, another gay man -- Matt Mayberry, Morgan’s vice chairman in the New Hampshire Log Cabin group -- is one of the candidates seeking the GOP nomination for Pappas’ seat.)
Asked about the most prominent gay politician of the 2020 cycle, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Morgan says the Democrat “does a good job of not making” his sexual orientation the top issue in his campaign for his party’s presidential nomination.
Morgan says it’s not a “significant part of my being” either.
“It’s just who I am.”
“My beliefs in capitalism, my beliefs in democracy, my beliefs in the government staying out of people’s lives is much more prevalent than who I sleep with,” he says. He thinks many in New Hampshire agree.
But the issue of same-sex marriage has divided some of the state’s Republicans.
An earlier attempt, led by Horn, to drop the marriage definition from the party’s platform and substitute the word “nurturing” for “traditional” marriage was quickly tabled in a closed-door meeting of the state’s GOP delegates.
Morgan is lobbying his fellow Republicans with a new approach: He doesn’t want to define marriage at all.
“Changing that marriage definition to read anything other than what it says is an insult” to religious conservatives, he tells the Young Republicans group. “What do people do when they both realize that no matter what you do, you can’t change it to make everybody happy? You just drop it.”
Most in the audience seem to agree.
“My question is: Why is the government involved with your personal choice?” asks Jeffrey Oligny, a former member of the New Hampshire House from Rockingham.
Morgan also has made inroads with some of the New Hampshire GOP’s critics of gay marriage.
State Rep. Al Baldasaro, an outspoken Trump supporter who helped scuttle the previous effort to change the marriage language, tells CNN he’s promised Morgan he will not move to table the issue this time around and will support an up-or-down vote on the plank when the party convenes in May.
“I’m a Catholic. I stand by family values, but the debate is over,” he says. “The Supreme Court has said it’s constitutional. So, let’s move forward.”
Moran, of the Log Cabin national group, said the organization has not tracked how many state GOP platforms still include the one-man, one-woman marriage definition.
It does, however, remain in the national GOP plank, adopted at the 2016 convention. That platform actually goes further, calling the Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage a “lawless ruling” that “robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority” to define marriage.
Morgan thinks he has an 80% chance of removing the language from the state platform in May, but knows any national fight will far last longer.
“It’s a game of dominoes. We’re going to tip our domino over and see what happens,” he says.
Morgan ends his daylong round of lobbying at tiny Geno’s Chowder and Sandwich Shop on the waterfront in Portsmouth.
As the small crowd digs into paper bowls of steaming-hot fish chowder, he talks about the bridges New Hampshire Republicans could build if they only would walk away from the current marriage definition: more allies on fights for lower taxes and against abortion. More people willing to open their wallets to support the state party.
“My friends have a problem donating money with this divisive plank,” he says. “We are Republicans. We may be gay, some of us. But we want a home, too.”