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Clark County GOP steps away from strict marriage definition

The Clark County Republican Party removed language from its platform defining marriage as “between a man and a woman,” a major change acknowledging a growing gay rights movement, the party’s political director said Monday.

The platform, which was overwhelmingly approved Saturday at the county GOP’s convention in Las Vegas, also edited its preamble to add “sexual orientation” to a nondiscrimination clause.

Also, the platform cut out references to the party being “pro-life” on abortion, although most conservative Republicans remain against the procedure, particularly those from the religious right.

The new Clark County GOP platform focuses instead on how the GOP stands for “personal liberty and personal freedom,” said Nick Phillips, the political director.

“We’re supposed to be a party that believes in the right to make personal decisions,” so it no longer makes sense to have the platform deal directly with marriage and abortion, he said, adding that the Clark County GOP is among one of the first parties in the country to remove language defining marriage as between a man and a woman. “This is a huge first step.”

The change comes during an election year when Republican candidates might benefit from eliminating the hot-button issues of abortion and same-sex marriage from party platforms.

The Nevada Republican Party is scheduled to hold its state convention April 11-12 in Las Vegas, but it’s unclear whether the state GOP will move to eliminate language relating to marriage and abortion. Phillips said Clark County accounts for about three-quarters of the state’s population and its party membership, so the local party could influence the outcome.

In the past couple of years, the Clark County GOP was taken over by supporters of former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, a libertarian-minded presidential candidate who believes in keeping government out of citizens’ private lives. Paul supporters remain active, although current Chairman David McKeon, a GOP establishment pick, replaced a Paul backer last year.

Chris Miller, chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party, said he was surprised by the GOP platform changes. He said the local Republicans probably are motivated by politics and haven’t really come around on the marriage and abortion issues.

“I’m sure it has to do with the political reality in the state of Nevada,” Miller said. “Basically, what they’re saying is we don’t want to take a position on it. We don’t want to talk about it. It shows they’ve been on the wrong side of history all along.”

The 2012 Clark County Democratic Party platform calls for “the freedom to marry,” including by gay couples, and for overturning the federal Defense of Marriage Act. It backs “reproductive freedom” and the abortion rights upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Those ideals are expected to be included in the 2014 platform.

Nevada voters could decide in the 2016 election whether to repeal language from the state constitution that has defined marriage as “between a man and a woman” since 2002. The 2013 Legislature passed a repeal of the definition, and it must pass again during the 2015 Legislature to appear on the ballot in 2016.

Phillips said there was a “healthy debate” about whether to remove the reference to marriage being defined as “between a man and woman” from the platform, but ithe change easily passed. He said more than 570 Republicans attended the convention. Of those, he said, between 100 and 120 voted against the change.

Phillips said that it’s possible the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may rule that Nevada’s law defining marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto recently said she could not defend the state law because of a 9th Circuit ruling in a separate case that said excluding gays from jury duty is unconstitutional discrimination.

Nevada’s law is being legally challenged by several gay couples. Phillips said that some conservative churchgoers who wanted to maintain the platform language regarding marriage fear churches may be sued and forced to marry gay couples, which is happening in Vermont.

“Some people were morally opposed to it, but some religious people fear churches will get sued if they don’t marry gays,” Phillips said. “That’s where most of the anti-gay marriage sentiment was coming from.”

The new platform preamble says, in part, “We the people of the Clark County Republican Party affirm that this Nation and this State were founded upon the principle that all people are created equal; that the powers of government are derived from the people for the purpose of protecting the people’s God given right to be free and to choose their own pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness; without regard to race, gender, religion, country of origin, or sexual orientation.”

The revised platform now has seven planks dealing with the following:

■ Jobs and the economy — Supporting “free market principles” and “eliminating unnecessary government regulations and burdensome taxes.”

■ Education — Supporting local control and “giving parents more options in choosing a school that meets the particular needs of the child.”

■ Health care — “Health care is a personal choice that is best managed without government interference; therefore, if you like your doctor, you should be able to actually keep your doctor, and if you like your health care plan, you should be able to actually keep your plan.”

■ Immigration reform — “We welcome people from all cultures and races who support the Constitution of the United States, our Country’s rule of law, improving and enforcing immigration laws, and securing our borders.”

■ Taxes — People are overburdened “by excessive taxation; therefore, we support efforts to reduce this burden; we oppose a state income tax, we believe that the extension of taxes is a tax increase, we oppose the gross receipts tax (a.k.a the margins tax) in ballot question III (and) any increase in the sales or property tax; regardless whether it originates from a city, county, or the State of Nevada.”

■ Fiscal responsibility — “We support zero-based balanced budgets that are fully disclosed to the public.”

■ Protecting rights, including gun ownership — The GOP opposes “legislation that infringes upon 2nd amendment rights and religious liberty.”

To read the platform, visit clarkgop.org/platform.htm.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter: @lmyerslvrj.

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