CLEVELAND – Republican officials rejected an emotional plea Monday to back off the GOP's opposition to same-sex marriage, renewing the party's embrace of religious conservative values as delegates prepared to welcome Donald Trump to their national convention.
Republicans who gathered to shape their party platform in Cleveland this week also refused to reverse their opposition to bathroom choice for transgender people, exposing a rift with their presumptive presidential nominee -- despite internal warnings that social conservative policies on gay rights alienate voters.
"All I ask today is that you include me," said Rachel Huff, a Republican delegate from Washington, D.C., who is openly gay.
"If our party wants a future ... we must evolve," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Asked to respond to Huff, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin later explained that opposition to same-sex marriage has "been the longtime tradition of the Republican Party."
"She's still welcome in the party. Everyone is," Fallin said.
The debate comes as anxious conservatives try influence the direction of a party facing deep uncertainty about Trump's positions on social issues.
Delegates will adopt an updated set of policy prescriptions -- known as the party platform -- when the Republican National Convention begins next week. Delegates began the tedious process of updating the 62-page document this week. Changes adopted Monday signaled renewed support for religious conservative values.
The New York billionaire has been reluctant to embrace social conservative positions in some cases, particularly as Republicans across the country push for new restrictions on bathroom access for transgender people.
Trump, who claims strong support from the gay community, has invited transgender celebrity Caitlyn Jenner to use whichever bathroom in Trump Tower she'd like. He also said North Carolina's so-called "bathroom law," which directs transgender people to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificates, has caused unnecessary strife.
Yet Republicans on Monday let stand language that attacks the Obama administration for directing schools to allow transgender students to use restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identities. "Their edict to the states concerning restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities is at once illegal, dangerous and ignores privacy issues. We salute the several states which have filed suit against it," reads the platform.
Delegates also changed language that offers a warning to children of same-sex parents: "Children raised in a traditional two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to sue drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage."
Annie Dickerson, a Republican delegate from New York, said the change relied upon "outrageous, horrible evidence" and represented "another poke in the eye to the gay community."
"Stop repelling gays for God's sake," she declared.
Trump opposes same-sex marriage, but often avoids discussing conservative social issues on the campaign trail. Facing the possibility of a delegate rebellion at the convention next week, his campaign has been taking a hands-off approach to the platform debate.
Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who led the platform committee, said he was given Trump's blessing during a private meeting last week in Washington.
"I've asked him to embrace the platform and I believe he will," Barrasso said of Trump.