Republicans crossing aisle on marriage equality

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More Republicans are crossing the aisle in regards to marriage equality, increasing the possibility that LGBT rights may become a bipartisan issue supported by both Democrats and GOPers. 

The new year has seen a wave of prominent GOP members lending their voices to the marriage equality cause, including former governor of Utah and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, former Republican candidate for governor of California, Meg Whitman, and high-ranking officials from both the Reagan and Bush administrations.

On February 26, more than 100 Republicans signed a “Friend of the Court” brief in opposition to Proposition 8, a California law banning same-sex marriage. The brief, organized by the former chair of the Republican National Committee, Ken Mehlman, offered information and legal opinion about why same-sex couples should have the right to marry.

A broad swath of Republican Party members signed on, including those not normally associated with LGBT rights, have never spoken out on this issue before, or who even changed positions, such as Huntsman and Whitman.

As governor of Utah, Huntsman only supported civil unions in the past, but in an op-ed written for The American Conservative he argued that supporting same-sex marriage is consistent with conservative principles. 

“All Americans should be treated equally under the law whether they marry in a church, another religious institution, or a town hall,” he wrote. “Civil equality is compatible with, and indeed promotes, freedom of conscience.”

Meg Whitman supported Proposition 8 while running for governor in 2009, but said in a LinkedIn blog “that there is no legitimate, fact-based reason for providing different legal treatment of committed relationships between same-sex couples. Laws like California’s Proposition 8 do not fortify traditional marriage; they merely prevent hundreds of thousands of children of same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits that accrue from marriage.”

Huntsman, Whitman, and other Republicans who support marriage equality are representative of a sudden shift in GOP ideology and rhetoric that has depicted same-sex marriage as an adversary to religious freedom and traditional marriage, and harmful to children.     

Michael Klarman, a Harvard Law School Professor and author of “From the Closet to the Altar: Courts, Backlash, and the Struggle for Same-Sex Marriage” told NBC News that Republicans supporting marriage equality was “inconceivable” just two years ago, calling the recent shift an “incredibly important development.”

“The shift is pretty fast,” Political Science Professor at University of California, Berkely, Eric Schickler, told 429Magazine, “but it follows a pretty fast shift in public opinion. When Republicans were firmly against same-sex marriage, the public was as well.”

Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of same-sex marriage. The latest Gallup Poll conducted in December 2012 reported that 53 percent of people favor legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples, up from 42 percent in 2004.

Another 2013 poll conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research reported that 75 percent of voters believe that the freedom to marry is a constitutional right, and 83 percent believe that marriage for same-sex couples will become legal nationwide in the next decade, a double-digit increase in voters’ opinions on this issue in just two years. 

Schickler adds that thanks to growing bipartisan support of marriage equality, Republicans who may have privately supported marriage equality are now “politically free” to support it openly.

Republican LGBT organizations have embraced their party’s newfound support of marriage equality. 

“Republicans who support freedom to marry for gays and lesbian couples can no longer be dismissed as a small fringe group of the party,” Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Gregory T. Angelo told 429Magazine.

“This is one more example of how conservatives are thinking about this issue differently,” Executive Director of GOProud Jimmy LaSalvia told 429Magazine.

“Their conservative principles and values are leading more and more conservatives to support civil marriage for gay couples.”

The surge in mainstream Republican support and public opinion polls concerning same-sex marriage has energized marriage equality advocates, especially those who politically identify as conservative. But many congressional Republicans, still committed to the status quo, remain in opposition to the idea of marriage outside of a heterosexual relationship. 

In January, House GOP leadership authorized $3 million to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law which defines marriage as between a man and woman. 

John Feehery, a Republican Strategist and former House leadership aide, said of House Speaker John Boehner’s anti-marriage equality stance, “I doubt very seriously he is going to change his position.” 

The division between Republicans who support marriage equality and the traditional party platform, which officially denounces same-sex marriage, may lead to an internal gridlock among party members.

However, experts believe that marriage equality is an impending reality, and even add that GOP members should embrace it as a conservative notion for the sake of the party’s own survival.

Huntsman communicated this message in his op-ed, pointing out that changing demographics in America means that Republicans can no longer afford to isolate minority groups with non-inclusive political stances.

“Republicans in the last election did more poorly among Latinos than they have in the past,” said Schickler in concurrance. “They already lost the African-American vote a long time ago. Gays and lesbians are another block of voters and Republicans are asking themselves, do we want to write them off? 

“This is where the future is heading. Even if right now you can still win an election with an anti-same-sex marriage stance, over time there are going to be fewer and fewer places where this is an appealing position.”  

429Magazine

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