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Mass. GOP approves conservative-leaning platform

Reflecting a major shift in the makeup of the elected Republican State Committee, activists overwhelmingly embraced a new platform Tuesday night that frowns upon abortion and praises traditional marriage.

After a spirited debate in which some members disputed whether social issues should be included in the party’s guiding principles at all, the activists backed the new platform by a 52-to-16 vote.

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With the vote, the activists aimed straight at some of the social issues that the Republican Party has long intentionally shied away from in Massachusetts, where liberal and libertarian views dominate public discourse.

The move reflects the changing membership of the 80-member committee, which has gained an influx of activists who work for groups that tried to stop gay marriage in Massachusetts a decade ago and that have sought greater influence over promoting candidates and steering public policy.

It also portends choppy seas for GOP gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, a moderate who supports abortion rights and gay marriage, but who has been trying to appease conservatives.

The Republicans who gathered in the Friends Lounge of the Agganis Arena at Boston University for the platform vote Tuesday night will reconvene at the same spot next month for the party’s nominating convention.

There they will decide whether Baker wins the nomination for governor, as he did in 2010, or faces a primary challenger.

Vying for support is Tea Party Republican Mark Fisher, who picked up the endorsement this week of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, a group that calls itself the Republican wing of the Republican Party.

Further complicating matters, one promising candidate for Congress, Richard Tisei, who narrowly lost a challenge to US Representative John Tierney two years ago, is openly gay and has gotten married since the last election.

The party now has embraced a platform on social issues that two of its leading candidates do not support.

During the sometimes fractious meeting Tuesday night, Republicans sought to downplay their differences and focus on what unites them.

Pointing to President Reagan, who would be cited no fewer than four times during the meeting, Platform Committee chairwoman Amy Carnevale said the group aimed for the “80 percent rule,” emphasizing their points of consensus while acknowledging they would not agree on everything.

She said that most members should be able to agree upon the carefully crafted language, which also rejects all forms of discrimination and prizes individual rights and freedom.

On abortion, the platform reads: “We affirm the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life. We believe that every instance of abortion is tragic. We advocate policies that will assist a woman during a crisis pregnancy.”

Carnevale told the group: “We felt that no one can argue that fact. It’s a tragedy for all those involved.”

Rather than condemning gay marriage, she noted, the platform states, “We believe that the institution of traditional marriage strengthens society.”

“Is there no question that this statement is a fact?” Carnevale said. “It’s not casting judgment on other unions. It’s simply stating the fact that traditional marriage strengthens our society.”

However, the platform then states: “There should be no infringement on the rights of the people of Massachusetts to vote on ballot initiatives,” a seeming reference to activists’ efforts, frustrated by legislators, to use a ballot initiative to bar gay marriage.

The 17-member platform committee that approved the document Friday was divided, with a minority group of members issuing a counterargument opposing the values section.

“Like the majority, we affirm the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life, but believe that describing every abortion as tragic demonstrates a judgment we are not willing to pass with such a broad brush,” the six-member minority of the Platform Committee wrote.

The language on traditional marriage, they wrote, “is easily read to exclude the contributions made to societal strength by gay and lesbian couples and their children. Such language serves to divide, not unite, and falls outside the beliefs of many within our party and our Commonwealth.”

The Republican moderates that had fostered successful candidates like William F. Weld, former governor and a Republican, have long urged the party to steer clear of social issues that have proved divisive nationally and that can be anathema in liberal Massachusetts.

“We cannot let this party be hijacked by a minority who wants to push a small group of cantankerous issues when we clearly lead the way on the issues that unite us,” Platform Committee member Matthew R. Sisk said in an impassioned speech objecting to the platform.

“Beating the drum on this issue at the state level will only serve as a major distraction from the things we can actually solve: unemployment, over-taxation, reckless spending, unaccountability, and one-
party control.”

But conservatives who have long felt neglected by the state committee establishment argued that their cause deserves to be heard as well.

“There are a lot of Republicans like myself that don’t feel we’re included in the Big Tent,” said William Gillmeister, a supportive member of the Platform Committee.

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at stephanie.ebbert@
globe.com
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