Republican leaders seek pledge to ban gay marriage

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The Independent US

Republican leaders are pushing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage to be included in the party's official policy positions as they prepare for their convention in New York.

Republican leaders are pushing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage to be included in the party's official policy positions as they prepare for their convention in New York.

A draft of the party's platform, released yesterday, includes an undertaking to seek a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage in a second Bush term. In 2000, the party simply stated that it supported the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The decision is likely to set off a debate between hardliners and moderates, who want to fashion a more inclusive image for the Republicans. The draft platform also calls for a constitutional ban on abortion, echoing a call from previous platforms, and endorses President George Bush's restrictions on federal financing of stem cell medical research. Some Republicans want the restrictions loosened.

The gay marriage debate was given fuel earlier this week when the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, whose daughter is gay, said he believed it was an issue that should be decided by individual states but "people ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to".

Mr Bush has said he supports a constitutional ban.

The Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, who opened the platform deliberations on social issues, attempted to set the scene for debate by declaring: "We are the party of the open door," but his words failed to convince the panel, which was made up largely of consesrvative Republicans which approved the hard line against same-sex unions, much to the disgust of those on the more liberal wing of the party. Chris Barron, political director of the gay rights group Log Cabin Republicans, said yesterday: "This shows that this issue continues to divide the country, our party and even our President and Vice-President.

"You can't craft a vicious, mean-spirited platform and then try to put lipstick on the pig by putting Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger on in prime time", he added in a reference to two of the Republican party's prominent moderates who are scheduled to speak at the convention.

Gary Bauer, who has campaigned for the marriage amendment and against abortion rights as president of the group American Values, said the platform draft solidified the Republicans as the "party of hearth and home".

He said Mr Cheney's comments were "just the sort of thing that discourages and demoralises voters the administration desperately needs".

Andrea Lafferty, of the Traditional Values Coalition, advised her network of conservative churches not to worry about the religious right's exclusion from prime-time TV next week, given the advances against gay rights.

"Don't be distracted by Schwarzenegger or Giuliani or even the Vice-President," she said. "It is what George Bush says that counts and he has been faithful and fearless on this important issue," she added, dismissing her opponents in the debate as Rinos - Republicans in Name Only.

Overall, Republican convention delegates overwhelmingly disapprove of gay marriage, according to an Associated Press survey of about three-quarters of the 2,500-plus delegates. About 72 per cent said that they opposed same-sex nuptials, while just over 2 per cent favoured it. The rest did not respond or had no opinion.

* A leading lawyer for MrBush's re-election campaign, Benjamin Ginsberg, resigned yesterday after disclosing he provided legal advice to a group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, that accuses the Democratic presidential candidate, John Kerry, of lying about his Vietnam War record.