By David Closson
While primetime speeches from the nominees and their most prominent surrogates garnered most of the media's attention during the political conventions, discussion on policy has thus far been light -- especially from the Democrats -- as most Americans have focused on candidate personalities, the coronavirus pandemic, and the social unrest and resulting violence. But even though issues important to social conservatives have not dominated recent headlines, the party platforms and policy agendas released by the parties offers a stark contrast in how the nominees and their campaigns view issues of great importance to social conservative Christian, including abortion, human sexuality, and religious freedom.
In fact, a useful gauge for determining where a politician stands and how they will govern if elected is their party's platform. According to a study by Lee Payne, an associate professor at Stephen F. Austin State University, elected officials vote in line with their party's platform nearly 80 percent of the time. This is true for both Republicans and Democrats. Consequently, a party's platform is a good indicator of candidates belonging to the two major parties will vote.
In 2016, for the first time, Democrats embraced a platform covering the full spectrum of LGBT issues. The 2016 platform affirmed the 2015 Obergefell decision and promised to "support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate." In 2020, the Democrats went even further, promising a litany of changes to law and policy on LGBT issues if elected.
For example, the 2020 Democratic platform promises that a Biden-Harris administration will appoint "senior leaders directly responsible for driving and coordinating LGBTQ+ issues at the State Department, USAID, and the National Security Council." The platform promises Democrats will "fight to enact the Equality Act," legislation that would codify sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in civil rights law, granting them the same status as race and national origin. The Equality Act would also undermine religious protections currently in place by stripping Americans of a Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) defense.
Moreover, the 2020 Democratic platform also promises to "guarantee transgender students' access to facilities based on their gender identity." Finally, in a section titled "Protecting LGBTQ+ Health" the platform pledges to require federal health plans to include "gender confirmation surgery" and "hormone therapy."
On abortion, the Democrats are very clear in their 2020 platform. According to the platform, "Democrats oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights." Moreover, the platform commits to "repeal the Title X domestic gag rule and restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood" and "repeal the Hyde Amendment, and protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom."
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, delegates at the Republican National Convention voted to extend the 2016 platform through 2024. While it is disappointing the RNC did not take the opportunity to put forward a fresh defense of the party's values, the 2016 platform does explicitly address issues of concern to social conservatives. For example, the 2016 platform condemns the "Supreme Court's lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges," endorses the First Amendment Defense Act (which would bar government discrimination against individuals and businesses for acting on the belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman), and affirms that "every child deserves a married mom and dad."
On the topic of abortion, the Republican Platform states, "We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare." The platform also calls for the passage of Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which medical research shows babies can feel pain in the womb.
While they aren't a substitute for the party platform, the Trump campaign's "core priorities" on "defend[ing] American values" released during the convention included promises to "defend the freedoms of religious believers and organizations," "protect unborn life through every means available," and "[c]ontinue nominating constitutionalist Supreme Court and lower court judges." In addition, the Republican National Committee resolution "in support of America-first accomplishments" included recognition of the President's accomplishments such as "[s]upporting and standing up for life and our traditional American values," "[s]upporting human rights at home and around the world," and "[s]upporting and nominating federal judges who defend the United States Constitution."
As Americans consider what the next four years will look politically, it is important to look carefully at the party platforms and policy agendas put forth over the last two weeks by the two major political parties. These agendas outline two very different visions for the country, particularly on issues Christians care deeply about. For further reflection on how Christians should consider elections and how to engage politically, visit FRC.org/engage to read my full publication titled "Biblical Principles for Political Engagement: Worldview, Issues, and Voting."