Conservative activists pressed their opposition to same-sex marriage Friday, taking an uncompromising stand that defies a fast-changing political landscape and is likely to cause trouble for Republicans.
They made their case at a “Values Voter Summit” sponsored by the legislative arm of the Family Research Council, which strongly opposes homosexuality as well as same-sex marriage.
“Civil rights are universal for all Americans, but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us,” said Joseph Grabowski, the communications director for the National Organization for Marriage and an attendee.
Preston Noell, the president of a Virginia-based activist group called Tradition, Family, Property complained that it’s gay-marriage advocates who are intolerant because they oppose those who’d deny them the right to marry. “Look at their intolerance” he said. “Look what people do to young men who protest their positions.”
Greeting the summit was an open letter to the Republican Party from pro-gay-rights groups, urging the party to distance itself.
“Will you live up to your own words and tell the members of your party to shun groups that demean other people and deny them dignity?” said an ad from the groups addressed to Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins fired back, calling it “odd that some people feel the need to attack those who are merely defending religious liberty and affirming the importance of the type of relationship which naturally provides children with a mother and a father.”
The group’s website says it “believes that homosexual conduct is harmful to the persons who engage in it and to society at large, and can never be affirmed. It is by definition unnatural, and as such is associated with negative physical and psychological health effects.”
Priebus wasn’t invited to the three-day conference, and his spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment. Perkins said Priebus wasn’t invited because “this is not a Republican event.”
Yet several potential candidates for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination did speak and court the activists, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. All expressed their support for traditional marriage, though none specifically criticized same-sex marriage.
“There are people in Washington who say Republicans, to win, have to abandon values,” Cruz said, as an audience member shouted, “No way! It’s a lie.” “You’re exactly right,” Cruz replied. He said at one point, “We stand for marriage.”
Santorum urged everyone to “protect the institution, the glue that holds the family together: marriage.”
Paul drew cheers when he proclaimed, “The First Amendment is not about keeping religious people out of government, it’s about keeping government out of religion.” Paul has said that while he favors traditional marriage, the issue should be decided locally.
Nineteen states and Washington, D.C., allow same-sex couples to marry, and courts in 16 other states have struck down gay-marriage bans. Many are now being appealed.
Support for same-sex marriage has soared in recent years: Fifty-two percent of Americans now back the idea, up from 35 percent in 2001, the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project reported Wednesday. The Supreme Court may consider the issue in its new term, which begins Oct. 6.
Young people are a key reason that support has grown. Two of three people born after 1981 back same-sex marriage, compared with 35 percent of those born from 1928 to 1945.
A huge partisan divide remains, though. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats support same-sex marriage, and the party endorsed the idea in its 2012 platform, a first for a major political party. Thirty percent of Republicans back same-sex marriage.