Republican public officials — including the No. 2 person on the GOP presidential ticket — weaved opposition to same-sex marriage into their speeches during an annual social conservative conference in D.C. as they criticized President Obama’s policies and reaffirmed traditional values.
Speakers at the the 2012 Values Voters Summit, which was hosted at the Omni Shoreham Hotel by the anti-gay Family Research Council, addressed an estimated 2,500 attendees who cheered references to prohibiting marriage rights for gay couples and making abortion illegal.
Perhaps the most high-profile speech at the three-day summit came from GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who made a reference to marriage when touting the values of the candidate at the top of the ticket: Mitt Romney.
“We can be confident in the rightness of our cause, and also in the integrity and readiness of the man who leads it,” Ryan said. “He is a solid and trustworthy, faithful and honorable man. Not only a defender of marriage, he offers an example of marriage at its best. Not only a fine businessman, he’s a fine man, worthy of leading our country and ready to lead the great turnaround we have spent four years waiting for.”
Ryan’s description of Romney as a “defender of marriage” directly lifts from the vice presidential candidate’s speech at the Republican National Convention when he gave Romney an identical distinction.
But the reference to marriage didn’t make up a significant portion of Ryan’s remarks. Abortion and the Obama administration’s decision to mandate birth control as part of health insurance policies were more salient.
“In the Clinton years, the stated goal was to make abortion safe, legal and rare,” Ryan said. “But that was a different time and a different president. Now, apparently, the Obama-Biden ticket stands for an absolute, unqualified right to abortion at any time, under any circumstance, and even at taxpayer expense.”
Twice during Ryan’s speech, protestors interrupted and shouted at the vice presidential candidate. The second protestor said something about Romney’s now infamous remarks that “Corporations are people, my friend” before being escorted out of the room. In a YouTube video posted after the speech of one of the protesters being taken away, she was shown decrying the corporate influence over the national political parties.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was also among the speakers at the summit and touted Republicans support “traditional marriage” because of the institution’s ability to keep people out of poverty.
“That is why we believe in traditional marriage, because marriage, more than any government program ever has or ever will, has lifted up people out of poverty, even those who felt there was no hope,” Cantor said. “Marriage has proven to be that formula which has been more successful at allowing for that pursuit of happiness. And that is why we stand tall and stand proud for traditional marriage.”
Cantor is among the members of House Republicans who sits on the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and voted to take up defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court after the Obama administration announced it would no longer defend the law.
Romney didn’t make a live appearance at the Values Voter Summit, but spoke to attendees via a recorded video. During the video, Romney talked about his commitment to social issues, saying his administration “will defend marriage, not try to redefine it.”
But Romney’s name didn’t often come up in speeches during the day — except for anomalies such as Ryan’s speech and the vice presidential nominee’s introduction by conservative pundit Bill Bennett — as others took the opportunity on stage to criticize Obama without praising the alternative candidate.
Wayne Besen, who’s gay and executive director of the Truth Wins Out, was in attendance at the summit and took note of the general absence of Romney.
“You’d think that Ronald Reagan was running with Paul Ryan,” Besen said. “There’s almost no mention of Romney except in Bennett’s speech. They’re really not enthusiastic at all.”
Besen also said the emphasis on defending marriage and supporting traditional marriage were coded ways for speakers to communicate to conservatives they don’t support the LGBT community.
“I wouldn’t call it quite red meat, I would call it perhaps a red meat appetizer,” Besen said. “[They're] talking about supporting traditional marriage, but it’s not outright gay bashing. They’re clearly sending signals to their voters, but … they don’t want to look like they’re attacking LGBT people, and they’re intolerant.”
LGBT and progressive groups decried the event and said public officials were participating in a conference hosted by an extreme right-wing organizations. Earlier this week, several groups, including the Human Rights Campaign, sent a letter to public officials urging them not to attend, although the calls didn’t seem to have an impact on the schedule.
Michael Keegan, president of progressive advocacy group called People For the American Way, said in statement Ryan “sends a clear message” by participating in the summit that he’s “decided to embrace the entrenched bigotry advocated by the farthest of the far right.”
“The Family Research Council and the American Family Association are not mainstream groups,” Keegan continued. “The FRC frequently and falsely links homosexuality to pedophilia. The AFA has claimed that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust. Both have defended laws at home and abroad that criminalize homosexuality. These are not innocent differences of opinion; they are full-scale efforts to smear and denigrate LGBT Americans.
Affirmations of against same-sex marriage and attacks on Obama for his opposition to DOMA and support for same-sex marriage were a prominent feature of many other speeches.
Rep. Tim Hueslkamp (R-Kansas), a freshman Tea Party lawmaker who this year submitted a DOMA amendment to the House floor, had stern words for the Obama administration over its refusal to defend the anti-gay, misstating the action the administration took by telling his audience Obama isn’t enforcing the law anymore.
“They’re using your taxpayer money to undermine marriage in court, after court, after court,” Hueslkamp said. “Last time I checked, the Constitution doesn’t allow a president to pick and choose … what law to enforce. They’re using those dollars, your taxpayer money, to undo your very values.”
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, co-chair of the Republican Party platform drafting committee, praised how the Republican Party includes language opposing same-sex marriage and his own state’s decision to adopt a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying the concept seems “foreign” to the Obama administration.
“We were very clear that we strongly disagree with a president who will not enforce the DOMA law to be able to protect traditional marriage,” McDonnell said. “We’ve already adopted that in the constitution of Virginia; in fact, every state – I think 30 of them now – that have actually voted in their states to protect traditional marriage have done so. And so embracing that concept as a national idea should not be a foreign concept, but it appears to be to this administration.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an anti-gay lawmaker who also introduced an amendment to House floor reaffirming DOMA, decried the administration’s decision to no longer defend the anti-gay law in court and its decision to allow same-sex weddings on military bases.
“They’re having them on bases throughout the world in places … same-sex marriage in direct offense to the Defense of Marriage Act,” King said. “This is an undermining of our Constitution, and the rule of law and the separation of powers.”
Outside the hotel after the first day of conference, a group of LGBT protesters affiliated with the group GetEQUAL demonstrated against the conference over its anti-gay message.
In addition to a banner reading, “Your Values Are Killing Us,” protesters held up photos of gay youths who died in recent years in incidents related to their sexual orientation: Lawrence King, a gay California who was shot at age 15; Justin Aaberg, a gay Minnesota youth who killed himself at age 15; and Seth Walsh, a gay California youth who killed himself at age 13.
Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, a gay Tampa, Fla., resident and national field director for GetEQUAL, said protesters intended to demonstrates that the “values” espoused at the conference are responsible for the death of gay youths across the country.
“We’re opposed to all of the anti-LGBT equality beliefs that they have, including that in therapy and other things that not only hurt us, but really drive our youth to suicide,” Sousa-Rodriguez said.