Gay rights groups claim discrimination by Texas GOP

05/29/2014 10:55 AM

05/30/2014 10:55 AM

Two Republican gay rights groups said Thursday that they have been discriminated against and denied the chance to set up booths at the party’s state convention next week because of their sexual orientation.

The Metroplex Republicans and Log Cabin Republicans are calling on state GOP officials to change their minds about the booths, remove anti-gay wording from the party platform and attend a meeting with them before the city’s Human Relations Commission to discuss those issues.

“We are feeling like we are definitely being excluded,” said Rudy Oeftering, vice president of the Metroplex Republicans, during a press conference at the Fort Worth Convention Center. “This is bad politics.”

The Republican state convention will be at the Fort Worth Convention Center Thursday through Saturday.

Party officials said they are upholding a longstanding policy that doesn’t allow booths to be set up by people who advocate positions starkly different from major platform positions.

Booths have been denied through the years to supporters of issues such as gambling, marijuana legalization and gay marriage.

“There’s a process to policies,” said Steve Munisteri, who chairs the Republican Party of Texas. “These aren’t arbitrary decisions.”

And the platform — an outline of the party’s beliefs that candidates do not always follow — is written and voted on by delegates to the state convention.

But Munisteri said all Republican of all beliefs are welcome at the convention.

Some just can’t set up booths.

“They are free to participate as delegates, advocate any position they’d like and hand out any material they’d like,” he said. “They will be treated kindly.”

Texas Democrats on Thursday invited the gay rights groups to set up booths at their convention, which will be June 26-28 in Dallas.

“We celebrate the diversity of our party,” said William Hailer, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. “That is what our state convention is all about.”

Booth policy

Log Cabin Republicans of Texas Chairman Jeffrey Davis said members of the group have found “incredible” support within the Republican party as it evolves on gay-rights issues.

“However, the party has denied our several attempts to host a booth in the convention exhibit hall,” he said. “We deserve to occupy a booth just like anyone else, and it’s time that the Texas GOP’s hypocritical policies and procedures are replaced by new ones that match the general opinion of Texan Republican voters.”

Munisteri said that when he became chair of the party in 2010, an informal policy was already in place that didn’t let groups opposing major issues in the platform set up tables at the state convention. He asked for reviews of that and other policies. The committee decided the rule should stay.

“Numerous applications have been denied,” Munisteri said.

The issue is not new. Gay-rights groups have been denied booths through the years and the Log Cabin Republicans filed a lawsuit in 1996 challenging the GOP’s decision that year.

The Texas Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the party was within its rights to deny the group the booth. While the group alleged that the state party infringed on its free speech and equal rights, the court ruled that the GOP’s decision was “mere internal party affairs.”

Party platform

Oeftering, of the conservative gay group that split from the Log Cabin Republicans in recent years, also called on party leaders to change the wording in the platform regarding homosexuality.

The Republican Party’s 2012 platform states that “the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit.”

It says homosexual behavior is “contrary” to the “truths that have been ordained by God … and shared by the majority of Texans.”

“Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle, in public policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples,’ ” according to the platform. “We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin. Additionally, we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction or belief in traditional values.”

Michael Cargill, a Log Cabin Republicans of Austin board member and owner of Central Texas Gun Works, said it’s time for the party to make a change.

“As long as I have supported the Republican Party, the party has refused to support me,” he said. “We are outcasts by our own party.”

City hearing?

Oeftering also requested that the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission review the facts surrounding the denial of booths because the event is happening on city property.

He said in a letter to the commission that he believes “our information will clearly show a violation of the spirit of the Fort Worth discrimination ordinance, which includes sexual orientation.”

Oeftering also invited officials with the Republican Party to attend the meeting that likely would be in late June.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with us,” Munisteri said. “Our convention … is going to Dallas next time.”

The Republican Party of Texas has booked Dallas for its state convention in 2016.

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