On April 29, the Michigan Republican party canceled its speaking invitation to Gov. Jon Huntsman apparently over the governor’s support for civil unions. Huntsman was initially asked to address Kent County Republican leaders on May 2.
In an email to party members obtained by the Grand Rapids Press, party chairwoman Joanne Voorhees wrote that a brief article on Huntsman in the newspaper and some further research into the governor’s “change in position on issues” had lead her to cancel the event, which was to be a fundraiser for the local party.
“This is a critical period of time for our party as we work to gain back the confidence and trust of the people of Michigan,” Voorhees wrote. “As was evidence from our most recent TEA Party, the voters want and expect us to stand on principle and return to our roots. Unfortunately, by holding an event with Governor Huntsman, we would be doing the exact opposite.”
Huntsman met instead with local Republican leaders at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.
Voorhees’ decision met with praise anti-gay political action committee called Campaign for Michigan Families.
”We commend Kent County Republican chair Joanne Vorhees [sic] and encourage the local Republican organizations in Oakland and Kalamazoo counties to also cancel their scheduled events for Gov. Huntsman,” the group said in a statement. “Kent County’s principled stand sends a strong message nationwide that grassroots conservatives will not embrace liberals who want to abandon the GOP platform’s commitment
to traditional family values in favor of promoting homosexual activists’ incremental assault on religious freedom, marriage, and the family. Gov. Huntsman endorsed not only homosexual ‘civil unions’ but also homosexual activists’ discriminatory ‘gay rights’ legislation in Utah, which in other jurisdictions has proven to be punitive in discriminating against individual business owners and groups such as Catholic Charities, the Boy Scouts, and the Salvation Army.”
The statement referred to Huntsman’s support of four bills and one policy change called the Common Ground Initiative. These pieces of legislation were promoted by statewide gay rights group Equality Utah during the last legislative session. Although Huntsman showed interest in a proposal to extend insurance coverage to unmarried domestic partners of state employees, the legislature scuttled all of the bills — which focused on such issues as the rights of domestic partners to sue for wrongful death, and the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to Utah’s workplace and housing nondiscrimination codes.
In February, Huntsman went on record as supporting the legalization of civil unions to the surprise and delight of Utah gays and lesbians and the anger of many conservative groups. These included former immigration rights group America Forever, which ran a controversial advertisement in both the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News criticizing the governor for his stance and Equality Utah for proposing the Common Ground Initiative. The ad, which compared gays and lesbians to prostitutes and drug addicts and accused them of trying to recruit children, outraged many Utahns. Some legislators who opposed the Common Ground Initiative even denounced the ad’s tone on the congressional record.
Despite Huntsman’s support for gay rights, his approval rating among Utahns did not suffer. At the 2009 general legislative session’s closing in March, Huntsman had an 84 percent approval rating while the legislature’s approval rating was only 64 percent.
Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune that he was not offended by the withdrawal of his invitation to speak.
“I don’t interpret it beyond what the party chair told me yesterday when he called, and that was that it involved just a couple of people and it was not representative at all of their state party,” said Huntsman.
Noting that few Americans currently identify themselves as Republican (only about one in five), Huntsman said that it was time for the party to “broaden itself” by being more inclusive.
“The only way we’re going to bring people who have defected into the independent party and nonaffiliated category is through ideas, is through bold solutions to our everyday problems,” he said.
In the past few months, Huntsman has spoken at a small number of party events in other states in order, he said, to “reinvigorate the party apparatus.”
Although some have speculated that Huntsman announced his support for civil unions to help prepare for a 2012 bid for the presidency, Huntsman said he was not planning to run.