The Republican National Committee did little Thursday to quell the uproar over a controversial Facebook posting by committeeman Dave Agema of Michigan on “filthy” homosexuals that has prompted calls for his resignation or removal from the party’s leadership.
On Wednesday, Agema copy-pasted an article by “Frank Joseph, M.D.” entitled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” onto his Facebook page. The article includes the statement that “part of the homosexual agenda is to get the public to affirm their filthy lifestyle.”
The posting was quickly flagged and denounced by a group of young Republicans, including precinct delegate Dennis Lennox, operative Brad Fingeroot, and many college Republicans. “This isn’t about what we believe either politically or as women and men of faith,” the Republicans said in a statement to reporters late Wednesday. “This is about common decency and realizing that you cannot win an election by insulting a wide swath of the electorate, whose votes our Republican Party needs to once again form a national majority. We do not have confidence in Mr. Agema representing the best interests of our fellow Michigan Republicans and as a result ask him to resign from his seat on the Republican National Committee.”
RNC Chairman Reince Priebus responded to the controversy in a statement to TIME Thursday: “The party’s position on traditional marriage is clear but as I have been saying, all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” he said. But Priebus stopped short of directly condemning Agema.
One GOP insider says the message should be clear, however: “Anyone who publishes something like that is too stupid to be a member of the committee; his comments are the opposite of what Reince has been advocating.”
That response echoed remarks by Michigan GOP chairman Bobby Schostak, who implied that the statement “undermines” the party platform but did not repudiate the posting or call for Agema to step aside. “Our party remains in support of traditional marriage but that should never be allowed nor confused with any form of hate or discrimination toward anyone,” he said in a statement. “Any statement or message in contrast undermines our party’s platform and our common sense conservative message.”
The effort to push Agema aside has drawn support from the gay Republican group GOProud, whose executive director Jimmy LaSalvia praised the Agema opponents for their comments.
“Conservatives in Michigan get it,” he said in a statement. “They understand that while we can disagree on issues like marriage, our movement and our party cannot and should not tolerate rank anti-gay bigotry.”
The young Republicans had called for Priebus to begin removal proceedings against Agema to unseat him as national committeeman, but an RNC official confirmed to TIME that the party’s rules do not allow the national party to remove state officials.
Each state has three GOP national committee members, a group composed of that state’s party chair, plus one committeeman and one committeewoman.
In a statement, Agema didn’t back down from posting the article, saying the media had taken someone else’s words as his own. “I copied and pasted a piece written by another author onto Facebook and some conservative publications and even a few liberal Republicans have chosen to take the words of someone else and cast them as my own,” he said. “I think it was a piece worth sharing given the debate over gay marriage that is happening in the Supreme Court. I strongly maintain my position in support of marriage as being between a man and a woman and will not back down from my core beliefs in support of strengthening the family.”
Lennox encouraged the RNC to take a tougher line against Agema.
“It’s clear that Republicans need to learn a lesson in the wake of Todd Aiken, Sharron Angle, and other candidates who have said deplorable things like this,” he said. “They spit in the face of voters whose support we need if we’re going to win the White House again.”
Here is a portion of the Facebook post:
UPDATE 2: RNC Chairman’s Office responds to GOProud complaint.
GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia questioned RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’ response to Agema’s comments in an email to a Priebus aide Thursday, calling the GOP chairman’s comments “very weak.”
“I’m sorry but we cannot respect anti-gay bigots. Just like anyone who hates blacks, Jews, women, or anyone else simply because of who they are,” he said in an email obtained by TIME. “Weak response. Very weak.”
RNC Deputy Chief of Staff Sara Armstrong responded by email that Priebus was being tough on Agema’s comments.
“Gosh, the Chairman wasn’t implying that at all. He was trying to say that he sees how Agema’s posting would offend people and that everyone should be treated with respect no matter if they are gay or straight. I’m sorry if you thought he was saying we should respect Agema for his statement. That was not the intent of the Chairman’s comment.”