Senior members of the Alabama Republican Party are trying to kick a 23-year-old college Republican off their steering committee after she told a local news site that same-sex marriage was reasonable because "we're governed by the constitution and not the Bible."
Stephanie Petelos, who chairs the College Republicans Federation of Alabama, made the comments to AL.com in June shortly after the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage in June. The state party's chair, Bill Armistead, had called decision "an affront to the Christian principles that this nation was founded on."
Petelos didn't make reference to Armistead directly, but instead argued that the marriage issue was a generational one, and that fiery religion-themed political rhetoric could alienate younger conservatives.
"The majority of students don't derive the premise of their argument for or against gay marriage from religion, because we're governed by the constitution and not the Bible," Petelos said.
Though some young Republicans have come out in support of gay marriage, Petelos said even more probably believe in it but remain quiet in fear of retribution.
"I think a lot of people would be actively for it if they didn't live in fear of backlash from party leaders," she said. "We don't want to go against the party, we love the party. We're just passionate about a whole list of other issues, that's why we're involved."
Petelos told BuzzFeed that some members of the state party's leadership were furious when her comments were published, and they began discussing ways to oust her from the party's steering committee, which always guarantees a spot for the college Republican chair. She eventually struck a deal with the leadership.
"If I didn't talk to any more press, or post on Facebook, or use any of my influence to talk about gay marriage, then they would not try to continue removing me from the steering committee," Petelos said.
Petelos said she has kept up her end of the deal, and she declined to answer BuzzFeed's questions about the marriage issue. But she said one member of the steering committee, Bonny Sachs, has continued a campaign to get rid of her, and has been ginning up support among members of the state party.
Sachs proposed a change to the state party bylaws this week that would stipulate that anyone who voiced an opinion contrary to the Republican National Committee's national platform would be removed from the steering committee — a move many acknowledge directly targets Petelos.
Reached for comment, Sachs told BuzzFeed only, "It's an internal issue that the party will handle."
The local intra-party conflict comes at a time when the national GOP is trying to broaden its appeal and build a new national coalition of voters that includes young social moderates. In fact, the RNC published a report in January that included a call to be more tolerant of a range of opinions on gay rights.
"Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be," the RNC report read.
The Alabama state party will vote on the change to the bylaws next week. In the meantime, some Alabama Republicans are fuming over the efforts to punish an active young Republican for expressing an opinion that is increasingly popular among her generational peers.
"She's a 23-year-old girl who's being bullied by some 50- and 60-year-old people because she made a statement in the paper," said Chris Brown, former chair of the Young Republican Federation of Alabama.
"I think that our party is big enough for diverse opinions," Brown added. "Some of our extreme right conservatives don't want diverse opinions."
The proposed change to the bylaws:
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
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