09/07/2012 02:08 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Party Platforms Do Matter

Given the painfully rightwing platform the GOP ratified at its national convention, any sentient human being would be justified in believing that most Republicans are irretrievably regressive on social issues, particularly gay rights and abortion. It wasn't just the mainstream media that painted the Republican platform as extremely conservative: religious right spokesman Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council bragged about his influence in writing the anti-gay marriage plank passed overwhelmingly by the platform committee. Conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly hailed the platform as the best one ever adopted by the party.

And it wasn't just opposition to same-sex marriage that motivated the outspokenly anti-gay social conservatives who dominated the platform committee. An attempt by a few delegates to persuade the committee to drop its opposition to civil unions for gay couples was also voted down. A plank supporting a federal marriage amendment and vigorous enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act also won majority support, as did a take-no-prisoners anti-abortion plank that was silent on exceptions even in cases of incest, rape or the life of the mother. The platform also advocates a strengthening of federal anti-pornography laws, a perennial favorite of social conservatives. About the only bright spot for personal liberty was the deletion of language from past platforms alleging the "incompatibility of homosexuality with military service" and no mention of returning to Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

The extreme nature of the platform is even more remarkable given an overlooked fact: on the issues just mentioned, it does not even remotely reflect the beliefs of a majority of rank-and-file Republicans. In fact, polls going back a decade or more indicate that most Republicans actually support most of what the right derisively labels the "gay agenda." For at least 10 years, polling by Gallup has recorded 80 percent or more of Americans in favor of employment nondiscrimination laws for gays and lesbians, which necessarily included a majority of Republicans. Last year, a Quinlan Rosner Research poll showed 66 percent of Republicans supported workplace policies banning anti-gay discrimination.

For at least five years, polls have shown a majority of Republicans opposing Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), which outlawed military service by openly gay members. A 2008 Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, found that 75 percent of Americans, including 66 percent of conservatives, supported ending DADT. A Gallup poll from December 2010, the month DADT was repealed, showed that even 51 percent of conservatives supported repeal. And a recent National Journal poll showed a strong majority of Republicans are now satisfied with allowing openly gay men and women to serve.

Even when it comes to the most contentious gay rights issue of all--legal recognition of gay couples--a majority of Republicans are on board. A 2010 CBS News polls showed 59 percent of Republicans in support of either same sex marriage or civil unions, while a 2011 Daily Kos/Public Policy Polling poll showed 53 percent of Republicans (and even 48 percent of conservatives) supporting either same sex marriage or civil unions. A Fox News poll in May of this year showed an overwhelming 57 percent of Republicans supporting legal recognition of gay couples. Clearly, the Christian rightists who wrote the platform are completely out of touch with most Republicans on this issue, and yet they ruled the roost at the national convention.

The platform also expressed support for a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution. This is in spite of the fact that, according to another recent National Journal poll, only 37 percent of Republicans support such an amendment--and it would seemingly be at odds with other portions of the platform that abhor giving policymaking power to the federal government at the expense of the states.

As polls clearly show, there is a real disconnect between the majority of Republicans and the tiny number of ideologues who control most of the levers of power in the party. Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn stated that this platform "represents what the majority of Americans believe." She is either in deep denial about how far out of the mainstream she and her colleagues are, or she has taken political spin to a whole new level.

Given the need for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to peel off as many of the truly undecided voters as possible, their campaign advisors had better hope that most of them didn't hear about or read about the religious right's handiwork in Tampa.

David Lampo is the author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. He is also a member of Log Cabin Republicans.