A cadre of conservatives is pushing to reshape the state Republican Party’s platform on gay marriage and abortion, setting up a potential clash on volatile social issues with the GOP’s leading candidate for governor and its strongest prospect for a congressional seat.
A proposal written by several key conservatives would go beyond the current party platform, which affirms “the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life.” It would add, “We believe that every instance of abortion is tragic.”
The draft would also add a line referring to same-sex marriage, a topic not mentioned in the current platform: “We believe the institution of traditional marriage strengthens our society.”
GOP activists called the changes an attempt to find a middle ground between moderate and conservative factions of the party that have been fighting for years over how prominent a role to give social issues in the party’s essential statement of principles.
But the party’s leading candidate for governor, Charlie Baker, and Richard Tisei, its best shot at breaking the Democratic stranglehold on the state’s congressional delegation, quickly distanced themselves from the platform proposal.
Several activists not involved in writing the document also said it could alienate the moderate and independent voters that Baker and Tisei will need to win in a state where only 11 percent of voters are registered Republicans and public sentiment appears to favor same-sex marriage.
Tisei, who is gay and recently married, released a statement saying he has a long record of supporting same-sex marriage and abortion rights and urging party leaders not to broach social issues in the platform.
“The Republican Party should lead the way in getting government off our backs, out of our wallets, and away from our bedrooms, and the party hierarchy would be wise to adopt platforms that promote these values, which are shared by an overwhelming number of citizens in Massachusetts,” Tisei said.
Baker’s campaign released a statement that made clear he disagrees with the proposal’s statements on marriage and abortion and wants his campaign to focus on other issues such as jobs and education.
“Charlie is prochoice and respects a woman’s right to make decisions about her medical care,” the statement said. “Charlie is and has always been a strong supporter of marriage equality.”
But Amy Carnevale, chairwoman of the state GOP’s Platform Committee, wrote the new language with several other committee members. She defended the proposed changes, saying they reflect the sentiments of the party’s activists.
“My goal was to be inclusive and tolerant to views on the other side, but still reflect the fact that we have many members of the party who feel strongly about these issues,” she said.
The Platform Committee plans to vote on the draft Friday. Several activists indicated it has a strong chance of passing that panel. It will then be brought to the 80-member State Committee for another vote on Feb. 25 and to the state Republican convention for final ratification next month. Amendments can be introduced and debated at any of those stops, so the draft could be changed before it is ultimately added to the platform.
The push to address marriage and abortion in the platform reflects a struggle over the party’s values that dates at least to 1990, when William F. Weld, a supporter of abortion rights, was roundly booed by social conservatives at the state Republican convention. In recent years, the debate has been reignited by a vocal crop of conservatives elected to the State Committee.
In September 2012, those conservatives pushed to have the state GOP embrace the national party platform, which condemns gay marriage and abortion in all cases. The plan was tabled after resistance from some party figures.
Some say the latest push on social issues could put the party at odds with the broader electorate in the state. A survey in September by Public Policy Polling found that Massachusetts voters support gay marriage by a greater than 2 to 1 margin, 60 percent to 29 percent.
Jeanne Kangas, a Platform Committee member from Boxborough, urged the party to avoid delving into a debate about marriage and abortion.
“It’s not going to be a document all of us agree with 100 percent, and I would rather the social issues be left out entirely,” said Kangas, who said she supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights.
Carnevale said she was motivated in part by a recent online survey by the state GOP that found that 39 percent of party activists want the platform to include statements opposing abortion and same-sex marriage.
Those figures reflect a “State Committee that is, over time, increasingly trending toward conservative members,” said Mike Potaski, a committee member from Uxbridge.
“We do have values we believe in,” Potaski said. “Abortion is wrong, marriage is good, families should stay together.”
Mark Fisher, the other Republican candidate for governor, said the changes could help the party reach out to Tea Party members and social conservatives who have felt sidelined by the moderate establishment.
“In order to bring these people back into the party, you need a full platform for all these groups to stand on,” he said. “You can’t be pulling up planks and have a fractured platform, and that’s what we have now in Massachusetts.”
Senior party leaders have remained publicly silent on the proposal. Ron Kaufman and Chanel Prunier, the national committee members from Massachusetts, declined to comment, and Kirsten Hughes, the party chairwoman, did not return calls seeking comment.
Nancy Luther, a state committee member from Topsfield, said she hopes GOP leaders do not wade into social issues.
“There are bigger things in this state and in this country to worry about,” she said. “Stay out of peoples’ private lives.”