The Austin Chronicle

GOP Marches Backward

By Brandon Watson, June 13, 2014, News

If all press is good press, the Texas Repub­lican Party has had a very good week. Following the adoption of the 2014 platform during the state convention on June 7, the Texas GOP quickly garnered nationwide scorn for its hard-line language on immigration, LGBT rights, and reproductive rights. National GOP leadership may have paid recent lip service to the idea of a more inclusive party, but in Texas, Reagan's "big tent" seems to have a heavily armed doorman.

Most of the national furor was focused on the platform's support for "reparative therapy," treatment that a handful of people in the religious right still claim can change sexual orientation. The practice has been widely discredited by the mainline scientific community, and deemed unethical by professional organizations, including the American Psychiatric Association and the American Medical Association. There's also considerable research reflecting that forced conversion therapy can lead to depression and self-harm. Both New Jersey and California have banned the practice for minors, and several other states are considering similar legislation.

Still, the platform's section on homosexuality allowed for a slight thawing. LGBT Republican groups successfully lobbied to have 2012's more incendiary language removed, such that "the practice of homosexuality" no longer "tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit," even if "homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle." Unsurprisingly, the Texas GOP remains steadfast in its opposition to same-sex marriage. Tellingly, Hous­ton polemicist Steve Hotze's "Defense of Texas Marriage Amendment Rally," held during the state convention, drew a sponsor committee that included 75 of Texas' 95 Republican state representatives.

The language regarding immigration lurched rightward as well. Most notably, the Tea Party wing led a last-minute charge to delete the "Texas Solution" from the platform. In 2012, that guest-worker plan was propped up as a nationwide model; this year, the focus shifted to enforcement – complete with a "contiguous physical barrier coupled with electronic, infrared, and visual monitoring." In-state tuition for illegal immigrants and "any form of amnesty" are both condemned.

State Democrats pounced on the plank, tying the platform to a February Greg Abbott stump speech in which he likened the South Texas border area to a third-world country. Gubernatorial opponent Wendy Davis caused a minor kerfuffle when she claimed at a June 6 Human Rights Cam­paign fundraiser that the Texas GOP dislikes "people who don't look like them or come from where they come from." Abbott shot back, calling the comments "offensive and uninformed," but did not offer comment on the Tea Party-revised immigration plan.

Texas Democrats charged that the Tea Party is no longer the fringe of the Texas Republican Party, but is the party. Through­out the convention, the Dems goaded the state GOP with press releases tagged with #RIPGOP and a banner depicting the Gadsden flag's snake sitting atop a dead elephant. Indeed, the platform throws more than a few bones to the party's Tea Party and Libertarian contingents.

The platform devotes two paragraphs in two separate sections to opposing the United Nations Agenda 21 treaty. Another provision calls for the United States to withdraw from the organization altogether. Support for a Benghazi investigation gets a nod, as does the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs, Obamacare repeal, and opposition to mandated smart utility meters. The repeal of the 17th Amendment – again allowing the appointment of U.S. senators by state legislatures – graduated from marginal idea to rallying cry.

Lest the Christian-right base feel left out of the fun, the platform remains true to the socially conservative agenda. The sections on reproductive rights, billed as "Protecting Innocent Human Life," will surprise few. The plank begins with a "thank you" to the "Texas Legislature for passing strong women's health and pro-life legislation" before endorsing any and all restrictions on women's reproductive choice. The crime plank includes approval of laws allowing for the prosecution of those who harm the unborn.

Elsewhere, the platform "deplore[s] all discrimination," while calling for sexual orientation be removed from the Hate Crimes Law. Pornography and gambling are officially pooh-poohed; "public acknowledgment of God" is held as "vital to our freedom, prosperity, and strength." Contraception coverage should not be provided. No-fault divorce, the latest social conservative bogeyman, should end.

Following the pattern of recent years, the Texas Republican Party has not publicly released the adopted document. Tea Party groups leaked the final immigration verbiage in a victory lap, but at press time, there is no official copy posted online. After the weekend's Internet hubbub, Texas Demo­crats may be the only ones still reading the document.

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.