Craig Stowell, 31, a former Marine and owner of Crown Point Cabinetry in Claremont, describes himself as a lifelong Republican.
“I’ve been a Republican as long as I can remember,” he said. At 15, he dressed up as Bob Dole for the Keene Pumpkin Festival, he said.
Growing up as the third generation of owners in the family business, Stowell found the Republican philosophy compatible with his own in every respect but one. “I have a brother who is gay, and it became difficult for me to explain to him that I support a party that opposes his right to marry,” he said.
Stowell is now a member of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, a group formed in 2012 by Freedom to Marry, which has campaigned for same-sex marriage since 2003. The Young Conservatives began a $1 million national tour in key swing states on Thursday, and made New Hampshire their first stop.
Their goal is to strike language like this from the GOP platform: “We believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage.”
The group would like to see that replaced at the 2016 convention with wording that suggests a more tolerant approach to same-sex marriage, not only because of their personal views, but because they see such a change as crucial to the future of a party they all profess to support with great passion.
Describing themselves “a diverse group of conservatives who are the next generation of the GOP,” the group lobbying New Hampshire Republicans on Thursday included Jeri Henry, 31, a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C.; Ed Lopez, 39, national vice chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus; Liz Mair, 35, who worked on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and for Texas Gov. Rick Perry; and Stowell, who serves as co-chair of Standing Up for NH Families.
“New Hampshire is ground zero on this issue since a Republican-led Legislature defeated a proposed repeal of gay marriage in 2012 and polls show a majority of Granite Staters and Republicans are in favor of the law,” said Christine Baratta of B-Fresh Consulting based in Manchester, which helped organize the visit.
The day started at breakfast with about 15 senior party officials, followed by a media blitz that included print, radio and television outlets, a luncheon with elected officials in Concord and a dinner with GOP activists.
Tyler Deaton, 28, of Concord, helped with the invitations and said he received a warm welcome, even among some who may not agree.
“Everybody wants to talk about this,” he said. “I don’t think anyone turned us down unless they were out of town.”
Jake Wagner, 21, of Manchester, ex-chair of the N.H. Federation of College Republicans, said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to recruit on campus largely because of the party’s position on this one issue.
Bryan McCormack, executive director of Cornerstone of New Hampshire, a conservative policy group, says the group is misguided if it claims to have the long-term interests of the Republican Party as a priority.
“To say this is how we are going to succeed is a grave, grave misconception,” said. “We have to return to the standards and values that we have stood upon for years.”
Mair said the party must reconsider its position on gay marriage to attract members of the growing liberty movement and conservative-leaning millennials.
“I completely disagree with that,” said McCormack, quoting former Pennsylvania Senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate Rick Santorum: “Why should the Republican party move closer to the middle in order to try and gain votes? You do not see the Democrats trying to move closer to the middle to try and gain votes. They stand very staunchly on their principles.”