A firestorm is brewing in the Massachusetts Republican Party over antigay remarks made by a GOP official who has so far resisted calls to resign, deepening divides within a party that is already split between moderate establishment Republicans and hardline social conservatives.
Top Republicans including Governor Charlie Baker have said Deborah Martell, who represents Ludlow on the 80-member Republican State Committee, should step down from the panel after she said more than once she was “sickened” that GOP congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette and his husband had adopted children, according to e-mails reviewed by the Globe.
But Martell herself has stayed quiet, not responding to multiple requests for comment from the Globe, as has GOP Chairman Jim Lyons, the de facto leader of a more socially conservative wing of the party.
Massachusetts GOP Vice Chairman Tom Mountain called Martell Tuesday night and formally asked her to resign, advising her that the state committee would likely censure her at its next meeting on June 9. Mountain told Martell that the committee does not have the power to expel her but she has lost the good will of many of her colleagues.
“We don’t want someone who’s antigay on our state committee,” Mountain said. “She made our party look really bad, and she did a bad thing. That’s the bottom line. The time for apologies has come and gone.”
Mountain said that Martell refused to apologize and that she “said nothing” in response to his request that she resign within 24 hours.
“Hopefully she’ll do the right thing,” Mountain said. “I don’t know if she will because she hasn’t done the right thing yet.”
Sossa-Paquette, who is running for a Second Congressional District seat, learned of the hateful remarks when a fellow Republican shared with him an e-mail from Martell in which she condemned Sossa-Paquette’s family choices and candidacy.
“I heard he was a ‘married’ homosexual man, who adopted children. I was sickened to hear this,” Martell wrote in a May 15 e-mail to fellow Republicans. Two Republicans who received the e-mail directly from Martell confirmed its contents.
Sossa-Paquette confronted Martell days later and said he planned to go public with her remarks.
“I am a Catholic who loves God and His Ten Commandments. I wish the best for every person in the world, including you!” Martell wrote back to Sossa-Paquette on May 19, according to an e-mail reviewed by the Globe. “What sickened me was that you adopted children. . . . Children deserve a mom and a dad. That’s how God designed marriage and the family.”
A number of top Massachusetts Republicans said they were horrified. But silence from other officials is stirring disappointment within the divided party.
“Deborah Martell’s comments about Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette and his family are abhorrent and have no place in public discourse and of course have no place in the leadership of a political party founded on protecting individual freedom,” Baker said in a statement.
Lyons, the chairman, has not responded to multiple requests for comment from the Globe. Several Republicans said Lyons has refused to intervene and has ignored their calls and messages about it.
Sossa-Paquette said Lyons has also ignored his messages, and when he finally reached the chairman on the phone, “he basically just told me he’s not going to get involved.” Lyons is “washing his hands of it,” he said.
State Representative Shawn Dooley, a Norfolk Republican who also serves on the state committee, has circulated a resolution to the rest of the body condemning “hateful ideology” and affirming that “those putting forth an agenda of hate and intolerance have no place in the Republican Party of Massachusetts.” More than 30 members have signed on and he said he anticipates more support.
“It’s not good enough for us to sit on the sideline and say, ‘We’re not bigots,’” Dooley said. “We need to be antibigots. We need to be actively fighting bigotry within our party.”
Martell’s behavior, and the silence from Lyons, has been disappointing, Sossa-Paquette said.
“This does not represent the Republican Party that I’ve defended for the last 20 years of my life,” Sossa-Paquette said. “I’m not going to tolerate any bigotry coming out of my own party or the Democratic Party. It just doesn’t belong. Anyone who does that should not be in office.”
Sossa-Paquette is seeking a seat held by Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat.
He has two children — Ashley, 19, and Rylan, 10 — and owns a day care in Worcester County with his husband.
He said he was motivated to get involved in politics out of concern for the future facing his kids, with the national debt rising. He supports former president Donald Trump’s policies but condemns his tone, and he praised Baker, though he said the governor’s COVID-19 policies were sometimes overly restrictive on businesses.
Alex Hagerty, director at large for Massachusetts Log Cabin Republicans and the first openly gay selectman in Abington, said Martell should apologize and resign immediately. He said it’s not the first time he has heard of Martell making such remarks.
When he was elected to the select board, an e-mail circulated among state committee members congratulating him. Martell privately replied “Hell is real!” according to Hagerty, who received a copy of her e-mail from a fellow Republican.
“Her views do not reflect the views of the Massachusetts GOP and that’s why I think it’s so critical that the MassGOP as a whole, and Republicans across the Commonwealth, denounce Debbie and ask for her resignation,” Hagerty said. “As an openly gay Republican myself, I feel very loved and very supported in my party.”
An earlier version of this story misstated Deborah Martell’s district. Martell represents Ludlow.