Texas Republicans endorse gay 'treatment'

Gay rights activists protest outside the Texas Republican Convention on 5 June, 2014. Image copyright AP
Image caption Gay rights protesters gather as Texas Republicans meet in Ft Worth for their state party convention

On Saturday delegates to the Texas Republican Party state convention approved a party platform that embodies many of the most deeply held beliefs of the state's grass-roots, Tea Party conservative base.

Among the greatest hits in the document are: the closing of multiple federal cabinet-level departments, prohibiting the teaching of evolution at schools, a call to block attempts to institute national (or international) education standards such as Common Core, a condemnation of funding for climate change research, elimination of the minimum wage, a repeal of the Voting Rights Act, a call to disregard federal gun-control laws, the creation of a special federal prosecutor to investigate the "Benghazi cover-up" and a condemnation of the United Nation's "Agenda 21" plan to... do something nefarious, I'm sure.

Although a debate over immigration and border security policy drew much of the fire within the convention halls, it was two paragraphs on policy directed toward gay people that generated the most heat outside:

Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle, in public policy, nor should family be redefined to include homosexual couples. We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behaviour, 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. We recognise the legitimacy and value of counselling which offers reparative therapy and treatment to patients who are seeking escape from the homosexual lifestyle. No laws or executive orders shall be imposed to limit or restrict access to this type of therapy.

The endorsement of "reparative therapy" for gays was quickly condemned by gay rights groups and liberal commentators. As many noted, the American Psychological Association has called the practice a product of "societal ignorance and prejudice" that incorrectly treats same-gender sexual orientation as a mental illness.

"There is no legitimacy or value to this 'reparative therapy', just as there is no 'homosexual lifestyle', since being gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender stems from biology, not choice," writes Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the New York Times. "And there certainly should be laws and executive orders banning aversion therapy because it is based on non-science and is almost always deeply harmful to the people who undergo it."

The Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder writes that the platform "endorses the wholly discredited, cruel and laughable-if-it-wasn't-so-damaging 'reparative therapy' racket that attempts to turn gay people straight."

Although the platform is nonbinding on the state's Republican candidates, Wilder says it's still important for symbolic reasons, as the party's "guiding document".

"It's also a fascinating glimpse into the id of conservatism," he writes. "The folks who write it are the true believers, and this is their wish list, their vision of a world that conforms to their ideals and beliefs."

According to the Associated Press, the treatment language was the product of former Texas Republican Party chair Cathie Adams, who now leads a social conservative group called Texas Eagle Forum. It was formulated as a response, in part, to recent moves in New Jersey and California to prohibit the treatment's use on minors:

Adams, whose group backed Tea Party outsiders who dominated Texas Republican primary races this year, said she simply promoted language proposed by a man who she says he was helped by such therapy.

"He knows what he's talking about. He is one of those who has benefited," Adams said. "I think the majority of Texans feel that way too. It's not like this is mandatory. This is only a voluntary programme."

Ironically, the controversy over the new language overshadowed the removal of a stronger condemnation of gays that had been included in the platform for the past three decades:

We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit. Homosexual behaviour is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders and shared by the majority of Texans.

The Associated Press quotes one party delegate, Elizabeth Hunter, who said she didn't find the original language offensive:

"I don't see anybody leaving the Republican Party because of that language," she said. "I think it would actually encourage someone to join when they see that the Republican Party takes a strong stand rather than standing in the middle."

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