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Baker’s lobbying of gay marriage draws ire from GOP faction

Brief backing gay marriage faulted

Governor Charlie Baker.
Governor Charlie Baker.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker is facing accusations of betrayal from within his own political party over his lobbying of the US Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, in contravention of the state Republican Party’s official platform.

Conservative members of the Republican State Committee are angered that Baker became the only sitting governor to add his name to an amicus brief that Republicans filed with the court because, they said, it creates damaging fissures within the party, both at the state level and nationally.

After helping elect Baker last November, activists on the right say the governor has forsaken them.

Chanel Prunier, the state’s Republican national committeewoman, said in an e-mail that it was “unwise and damaging to party unity for party leaders in [Massachusetts] to sign on to the brief for same-sex marriage. It undermines a lot of the work many people are trying to do to bring factions in the party together for them to betray the grass roots of the party by spending their time and effort on it.”

During last year’s campaign, Baker highlighted his support for gay marriage by emphasizing his relationship with his brother, who lives in Massachusetts and is married to a man.

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“For Governor Baker the issue of marriage equality is personal,” Baker spokeswoman Lizzy Guyton said in an e-mail. “He strongly believes that every American citizen should have equal protection under the law and feels inclusivity is the hallmark of the big tent Republican Party.”

The amicus brief, organized by former national Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman, challenges individual states’ prohibitions against same-sex marriage on the grounds of the 14th Amendment, the Reconstruction Era measure drafted to provide “equal protection.” Baker led a host of Massachusetts Republicans, including former gay-marriage opponent Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, in signing the brief, which seeks to depict same-sex marriage as an amplification of conservative values.

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Members of the Republican base, though, called it the latest instance of the state’s more centrist GOP establishment turning its back on them and the party’s bedrock principles.

“You’ve got this, what I would call, traitorous behavior, and it just continues on and on,” said Steve Aylward, a leading conservative activist and committee member from Watertown.

“When you have that kind of leakage in the party — you have hundreds and hundreds of solid conservatives who have to run on this issue,” Aylward said, pointing to potential national implications of Baker’s advocacy.

“If I’m a guy who’s running [in opposition to gay marriage] in Arkansas, my opponent can point to fractures within the party and say, ‘Jeez, even the Republican governor of Massachusetts has come out against this,’” Aylward said. “It just hurts. We need to stick together as a party. If you want to change a plank in the platform, there’s a process.”

The state party platform, adopted last year, does not explicitly condemn gay marriage but instead states that “the institution of traditional marriage strengthens society.”

Noting that she had not endorsed the party platform and had signed onto the court brief, state party chairwoman Kirsten Hughes said Baker had consistently stated his support for same-sex marriage.

“I don’t think he’s doing anything different than what he did during the campaign, so I don’t know why anybody would be surprised,” Hughes said.

Conservative activists have made inroads on the state committee in recent years, more than doubling their numbers, according to member estimates. The body publicly scolded former GOP governor William Weld and former state party chairman Brian Cresta last year after they endorsed Democrats over Republicans in separate legislative races.

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State committee member Brendan O’Connell of Jamaica Plain called the Weld and Cresta endorsements “shameful.”

“I think the party left the conservatives about 25 years ago, and I think the conservatives are making a comeback. It starts at the state committee,” O’Connell said.

Committee members also worried about the timing of Baker signing onto the amicus brief only weeks before the party attempts to hold the central Massachusetts State House seat vacated when the governor tapped Matt Beaton as his energy and environment chief.

“The hard-core Republicans you want to come out in Shrewsbury are the same people who will be [angered] when they read this about gay marriage,” Aylward said. “It’s just not politically astute to alienate your base two weeks out from a special election.”

Not all committee members opposed to gay marriage were angered with the governor’s advocacy. Saying that he disagreed with Baker on the policy, William Gillmeister of Brookfield allowed it was Baker’s right “to do what his conscience tells him that he ought to do.”

The next state committee meeting is in May, members said, and in the interim they will weigh how or whether to address the issue then.

Hughes said she did not expect the state committee to take formal action against Baker, the way it did against Weld and Cresta.

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“I don’t think anybody is going to waste any time on that,” she said.


Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at jim.osullivan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.