At the Republican state convention in Fort Worth, GOP leadership has been trying to cattle-prod the base in the direction of immigration reform, with mixed success. But there are other issues in the platform that fall under the general question of party “inclusivity,” issues that are stuck in neutral—perhaps none so much as the question of how the party should treat gay people.
Earlier this year, a federal court nixed the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment—and while that’s being appealed, it increasingly feels like gay marriage will become a reality across the country soon. Republicans in bluer states have acquiesced to that reality. But for a considerable number of people in Texas, the idea of homosexuality remains absolutely terrifying. And the state’s biggest names and brightest stars are still resolutely on their side.
On Thursday night, hundreds of convention attendees gathered in the ballroom of the swanky Omni hotel, at the heart of the action, at an event sponsored by the Conservative Republicans of Texas, one of the state’s largest Republican PACs. The emcee for the night was Houston megachurch Pastor Steve Riggle, who’s been active in opposing Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance and famously compared making Christians sell products for gay weddings to forcing a Jewish baker to make a swastika cake.
In attendance: most of the state GOP’s new leading lights. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, lt. governor hopeful Dan Patrick, and much of the rest of the state slate, like Ken Paxton. But first: the assembled watched a 30-minute long video made by a reedy Massachusetts anti-gay activist named Brian Camenker, whose group, MassResistance, has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The video aims to depict the quasi-totalitarian social order that descended on Massachusetts after gay marriage was legalized in that state. It’s incredibly fearful, if somewhat crude, propaganda. The film alternates between stories of Massachusetts Christians who were allegedly penalized for holding anti-gay views, and in-your-face depictions of certain aspects of gay sexuality (If you’ve never seen hundreds of older white people in formal dress look at a picture of a “leather daddy” together, it’s really something to behold.)
And it put the fear of god into the audience, who gasped their way through the film until it seemed like many could barely stand it. A young mother and her husband stood in the back, cradling an infant, as if the world was falling apart around them.
Enter Ted Cruz, the night’s first speaker, who Riggle called “the next president of the United States.” These are Cruz’s people, and they love him as they would Moses. Earlier, Riggle joked that each of the night’s long list of speakers would get five minutes, but Cruz could talk as long as he wanted. He was greeted by riotous applause.
Cruz lived up to their expectations. “From the dawn of time, marriage has been the foundation of our civilization. The basic building block, going back to the Garden, where God said it was not good for man to be alone. And so God made Adam a companion from his own rib so they might live together and raise children up in the world.”
Heterosexual marriage was the bedrock of the natural order. “There was a time that that was not considered to be a controversial statement,” he said. “There was a time that a duck hunter in Louisiana wouldn’t be threatened with losing his TV show for saying something like that.”
Marriage is “under assault in a way that is pervasive and unrelenting,” and the assault was emanating, first, from President Obama. Three things needed to be done to beat him back, Cruz said. Prayer was one. Legislation to protect state laws on marriage was another. And the third was to win elections, including the presidential election in 2016.
Patrick came next. Cruz appealed to the religious folks’ sense of the way things were—but Patrick played more directly on his audience’s fear. He seemed even more cocksure than he did in the primary. Alluding to Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance, he asked: How could Democrats say that Republicans were waging a war on women, when Democrats were passing laws that would allow men to use their bathrooms?
Younger Republicans may be a lot squishier on homosexuality than their elders, but that’s not translating to much real change in the party. In a draft of the party’s platform being circulated in Fort Worth, the party embraces the idea that gay people can be made un-gay with therapy. Gay rights are making steady progress nationally, but this increasingly fearful cohort holds great sway in the GOP.