RNC Doubles Down On Gay Marriage Stance Amid Conservative Pressure

Social conservatives threaten to cut ties with GOP over gay marriage stance.

April 12, 2013 -- With support for gay marriage at a record high among Americans, Republican party leaders from around the country doubled down to oppose it at the Republican National Committee's spring meeting in Los Angeles Friday.

Members of the committee voted unanimously to reaffirm the language in the GOP platform defining marriage "as the union of one man and one woman." The resolution went further, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to "uphold the sanctity of marriage in its rulings on Proposition 8 and the Federal Defense of Marriage Act."

An ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted in March found that 58 percent of Americans said it should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry. And support for gay marriage has been increasing among Republicans: In the latest poll, 34 percent of them said they supported it -- an 18 point uptick from 2004.

Earlier today, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus joked in his remarks to the group that Lady Gaga won't be "chairing our platform committee." Gaga is a noted gay rights activist.

"It's absolutely not true that I asked Lady Gaga to perform at the Reagan Library dinner tonight," according to a text of Priebus's prepared comments, a reference to reports that a separate GOP group offered to pay the entertainer to perform at an event during last summer's Republican National Convention. "For the record, she also won't be chairing our platform committee or serving as our new director of surrogate operations."

Republican leaders have been meeting this week at a hotel less than a mile from West Hollywood, Calif., a city with a large gay and lesbian population.

The vote may appease social conservatives who have been threatening to withhold their support from the GOP over rifts about where the party is headed on social issues.

After the Republican National Committee hinted at new outreach to gay voters, and possibly changing its stance or at least its tone on gay-rights issues, 11 influential social-conservative groups aired their grievances in a letter addressed to Priebus timed to coincide with the start of the RNC's meeting.

Led by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who told donors not to give national Republican leaders "a dime of your hard-earned money" until the party clarified its positions on social issues.

"We respectfully warn GOP leadership that an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support," the groups warned Priebus. "We could not change that even if we wished to."

The group of signers included a who's who of prominent social conservative organizations: American Values President Gary Bauer; Family-PAC Federal Director Paul Caprio and VP of Government Affairs Sandy Rios; Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser; Family Talk Action President and founder James Dobson; Traditional Values Coalition President Andrea Lafferty and founder Louis P. Sheldon; CitizenLink President Tom Minnery; Religious Freedom Coaliion William J. Murray; Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute President Austin Ruse; Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly; and American Family Association President Tim Wildmon.

Perkins trumpeted the letter on his blog on the Family Research Council website, writing that the coalition had "made it quite clear what the RNC stood to lose by running left-of-center on issues like life and marriage, adding that "until the RNC and the other national Republican organizations grow a backbone and start defending core principles, don't give them a dime of your hard-earned money."

The letter hinted that Republicans may be softening on gay rights issues.

In seeking to reboot the party after its 2012 election losses, Priebus and the RNC released a "Growth and Opportunity Project" report that suggested multiple changes to make the party more appealing to a broader swath of voters, including gays and lesbians.

"Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be," the report's authors wrote.

While Perkins said that passing the anti-gay marriage resolution would be "a gesture of good faith" other Republicans balked. Two former RNC employees wrote an op-ed in the National Review on Thursday urging the committee members gathered in Los Angles to reject it.

"As former RNC operatives, we firmly believe that passage of the resolution would be a significant setback in terms of party unity and branding, and would move the RNC further into a function that is outside its primary purpose: winning elections," wrote former staffers Liz Mair and Marco Nuñez.

The resolution, passed on Friday, was proposed by Dave Agema, an RNC committeeman from Michigan who recently posted an article on his Facebook page that refers to gays and lesbians as "filthy."

A prominent segment of the Republican base, social conservatives helped elect George W. Bush in 2004, and social-conservative activists have exerted a powerful influence over the Iowa GOP caucuses, a key hurdle for Republican presidential contenders, which surprised many by handing victories to Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Rick Santorum in 2012.

One signature that was noticeably missing from the letter was that of leading social conservative Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats led socially conservative initiatives in Iowa through his Family Leader organization and gives his full support to the views expressed in the letter.

"If I was asked to sign the letter, I definitely would have," Vander Plaats told ABC News.

"A lot of people in the party are concerned that the party will sell out our values in order to win, and if you do that what do you really win?" he continued.

Vander Plaats also agreed with the prediction that the GOP would lose support if it follows the recommendations of the "Growth and Oppotunity Project" to the letter.

If Republcians "abandon their values, people will abandon their party," he said. "Republicans are motivated by issues, not by the Republican name ... and these issues aren't going to change regardless of what the poll numbers say."