The emerging Republican Party platform embraces a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage -- despite an unusual open split on the matter between President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- and declares that only heterosexual couples should receive legal recognition and related benefits.
Republican platform drafters on Wednesday speedily and easily approved the unprecedented party policy statement on marriage.
Spurning pleas by gay Republicans for a paragraph that would explicitly acknowledge divisions over gay and lesbian issues, the party officials called their action a response to moves in Massachusetts, San Francisco and elsewhere to legalize same-sex marriage.
"We strongly support President Bush's call for a constitutional amendment that fully protects marriage," the plank reads. It further criticizes judges and local authorities for "presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization, the union of a man and a woman in marriage."
It was just one of several platform-drafting victories by social conservatives who wielded great influence within the party despite the national prominence of moderate Republicans, such as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
Schwarzenegger and McCain, who will address the Republican National Convention in prime time next week, have opposed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
The Senate last month rejected such an amendment, and the Democratic Party platform adopted in Boston last month opposed it.
On Tuesday, Cheney added his voice to the discussion, saying he did not support a constitutional amendment -- despite Bush's endorsement of the concept in February. The vice president's statement came at a campaign event in Iowa with his daughter Mary, a lesbian, in the audience.
Cheney's break with Bush on the socially charged issue set conservatives abuzz across the country, but it appeared to have a negligible effect on the platform developing here.
The drafters of the GOP platform, a group dominated by social conservatives, added language that appeared to attack other recent legal developments short of same-sex marriage: same-sex civil unions (in Vermont) and laws that grant domestic-partner benefits in gay or lesbian relationships (in California and elsewhere).
"We further believe that legal recognition and the accompanying benefits afforded couples should be preserved for that unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage," the plank reads.
These planks would go further than the 2000 GOP platform, which made no mention of a constitutional amendment in connection with gay marriage.
The drafters are at work here this week in advance of the convention that will renominate Bush and Cheney.
The platform committee, led by a Bush ally -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) -- expects to approve a final draft by today. Barring a floor fight -- which even GOP dissidents call a far-fetched scenario -- the platform will then be ratified at the convention.
The platform, a statement of principles followed more by party activists than the general public, would not bind Bush or Republican congressional leaders if they won reelection in November. But it offers a glimpse of how the GOP would seek to govern over the next four years as Bush prepares to spell out plans for a second term.
More than 100 pages long, the draft platform covers national security, economic policy and other issues. It mainly restates Bush's policies and echoes presidential campaign rhetoric.
But it also chooses sides in several matters of internal GOP debate. It supports Bush's controversial proposal to offer temporary legal status to undocumented foreigners willing to become "guest workers," but condemns what it calls "amnesty" for people in the country illegally.
It also reaffirms the party's long-standing support for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. "We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the plank reads, although many Republicans favor abortion rights.
The draft platform also endorses Bush's restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, announced in 2001, despite criticism of that policy by former First Lady Nancy Reagan and other prominent Republicans. Those critics say that expanding such research would combat disease and help save lives.
But the draft platform asserts: "We strongly support the president's policy that prevents taxpayer dollars from being used to encourage the future destruction of human embryos."
In general, the document reflects Bush's close alliance with social conservatives on hot-button issues.
At the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, where the platform writers met, veteran conservative activist Gary L. Bauer applauded what he called "a pretty solid document." He dismissed Cheney's comments this week on same-sex marriage.
"The president is strongly in favor of the amendment" that would effectively prohibit same-sex marriage, Bauer said. "It's impossible to imagine a platform that wouldn't reflect that fact."
But a gay Republican group denounced the developing platform.
"It's absolutely outrageous," said Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans. "Their language goes far beyond what even the president has asked for. This is an insult to fair-minded Republicans."
Frist acknowledged: "Not everybody's ideas make it all the way through to the end."
By a 74-18 vote, the platform committee approved a statement aimed at addressing dissident concerns: "As the party of the open door, while steadfast in our commitment to our ideals, we respect and accept that members of our party can have deeply held and sometimes differing views."