Thursday, March 18, 2010

Roundhouse Round-Up: SF County GOP for Gay Rights?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
March 18, 2010

I normally don't pay a lot of attention to political party platforms. That's OK, neither do the parties.

But a news release this week from the Santa Fe County Republican Party made me do a double take.

It was about a series of proposed amendments to the state GOP platform.

"Presently, the state Republican platform supports vigorous enforcement of Civil Rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, handicap, religion, and national origin," the release said. "The Santa Fe County Party ... recommended adding sexual orientation to this list."

Say what?

"The county party also showed their support of 'civil unions,' " the news release continued. In fact, they also proposed taking out a sentence in the state platform that says, "We support a Constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman."

The county GOP's executive committee made a presentation of these proposals and others at the state pre-primary convention last weekend.

I called the new county chairman, Paul Morrison, on Wednesday to ask about this position. "Why are you surprised that Republicans would be in favor of equal rights?" he asked.

Well, in the Legislature there has been virtually no GOP support for domestic-partnership bills. (In 2008, two House Republicans — Reps. Justine Fox-Young of Albuquerque and Kathy McCoy of Cedar Crest — voted for such a bill, but no other Republicans did.) And don't forget that in the 2004 presidential race, national Republicans successfully used "gay marriage" as a wedge issue against the Democrats.

But Morrison said, "Our position is that we believe in freedom and liberty for everybody. We tried to make the case that people don't choose (to be homosexual), they're born that way. Why not give them the same rights as everyone else?"

Morrison, a retired insurance executive in his 70s, is no Santa Fe liberal. He scorns "progressives and socialists" who say the Constitution is a "living document." He says people in true need should receive assistance, but not those "too lazy to ... help themselves." Morrison says he's probably more libertarian-leaning than most Republicans. "We're trying to make people feel free to join the Republican Party," he said.

The county party also proposed striking a reference to "the pre-born" from a section of the state platform.

"We weren't making a stand on abortion," Morrison said. "None of us favor abortion." But he said that some in the party don't think men should be making decisions about a woman's body. "We want to make the sanctity of life more inclusive," he said. By changing the platform to say the party believes in protecting the sanctity of life until natural death — without mentioning the unborn — leaves room for those who feel life begins at conception as well as those who think life begins at birth.

Unsurprisingly, the GOP convention voted overwhelmingly against the Santa Fe County GOP's proposed changes — though Morrison said several delegates privately told him they were sympathetic but afraid to speak out.

The Dems have been far more aggressive in the gay-rights area. Their state Central Committee last year adopted a platform plank going well beyond domestic partnerships, calling on Democrats to actively push laws to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Of course nobody's introduced any same-sex-marriage bill. In fact, more than a third of state Senate Democrats joined Republicans to vote against a domestic-partnership bill last year.

R.I.P. David Salman: Flags in the state are at half-mast today and Friday for rancher, raspberry farmer and former House Majority Leader David Salman, who died Feb. 28 at the age of 74.

It's true that back in the '70s Salman once called reporters "illegitimate, ignorant progeny of warthogs." But when I interviewed him a few years ago about the medical marijuana bill he successfully passed in 1978, he was very kind, intelligent and funny.

There will be a memorial service for Salman in the Capitol Rotunda from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday.