The Republican party is becoming increasingly aware that standing firm against marriage equality could very well make it the hill they die on. However, they also have to find a way to balance that—somehow—against conservatives that will never support pro-LGBT laws.
Dan Innis, a candidate for New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District, is a gay Republican in what might be the biggest swing district in the US. According to the Washington Post, at the monthly meeting of the Belknap County Republican Committee, he said in response to a question about his political focus, “I am running on free-market issues. That’s what I’m focused on. The social issue has been settled here in New Hampshire,” when asked by an attendee.
The voter replied simply, “Well, with that answer, I’m very comfortable supporting you.”
In 2014, a decade after Massachusetts became the first US state to legalize marriage equality, Innis is one of just three openly gay GOP politicians running for an office on Capitol Hill. The other two in the Republican primary election are Richard Tisei of Massachusetts, who seems likely to once again go up against Democratic Representative John F. Tierney, and Carl DeMaio, formerly a member of the San Diego City Council, who aims to unseat Democratic Representative Scott Peters. Innis’ opponent in the primary is former congressman Frank C. Guinta; the winner will go up against Democratic Representative Carol Shea-Porter.
Innis observed, “The fact that the three of us can run for Congress as serious candidates says an awful lot about where we are today as a party…We’re seeing an evolution of the Republican Party that is going to broaden the base and be more inclusive.” He added that the question at the Belknap County meeting was only the second time he had been asked anything related to his sexuality since beginning his campaign.
The county Republican chairman, Alan Glassman, said outright that Innis’ orientation was irrelevant: “Just like any other candidate who we host, our members want to know what Dan is going to do to improve the economy.”
Same-sex marriage has been recognized in New Hampshire since January 1, 2010, and since then the number of states following suit has increased rapidly. The national campaign director for Freedom to Marry, Marc Solomon, told the Washington Post, “Right now, we are on the brink of winning nationwide.”
He added, “Some people had it in their minds that something bad was going to happen to society if same-sex marriage was allowed. But as more states have enacted freedom-to-marry laws, the more people have shifted their positions very quickly.”
However, openly gay politicians running for federal office remain unusual, especially within the GOP. Only eight members of Congress are openly gay, all of whom are Democrats. There was an openly LGBT Republican in Congress, Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona), but he retired in 2007.
Innis said, “We’ve always been here. There have always been gay Republicans. What the fact that three of us are running this year says is that the party has come to a place where we feel comfortable running.”
In March 2014, a Post-ABC poll found that 60 percent of Republicans under 40 support marriage equality.
However, despite urgings from some, the national GOP platform still declares that marriage should be a union between one man and one woman, and in 2013 Rep. J. Randy Forbes suggested that the National Republican Congressional Committee should refuse to support openly gay candidates. That same year, a survey from the Pew Research Center found that 76 percent of LGBT Americans consider the Republican Party to be “unfriendly” towards the community. In contrast, it found that only 10 percent considered the Democratic Party to be unfriendly in regards to LGBT people.
Majority or minority, conservatives against marriage equality and other LGBT rights remain very vocal about their views. In Massachusetts, the state’s Republican Party revived a previously abandoned declaration that marriage should only be allowed between one man and one woman and that abortion should not be legal at all.
Richard Tisei, who was the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006, boycotted the convention. He told the Washington Post, “I thought it was important to say that the party was taking a step backwards rather than forwards. I want to be a leader within the party to promote traditional Republican values of freedom and liberty. It’s a bit of a setback here.”
He, too, says his orientation hasn’t proven to be an issue—his campaign focus has been on the economy, and voters aren’t concerned about his personal life. He said that the support he has received from fellow GOP members is a sign that the party is coming around.
His running mate from 2006, Charlie Baker, is currently running for governor of Massachusetts once again. In a recent two-minute campaign ad, he talks about when his brother came out to him by asking, “What would you say if your brother told you he was gay?”
According to the ad, Baker remembers telling him, “I’d say it’s no big deal.”
Tisei said, “There’s going to be some hiccups along the way, but within the party, I’m really encouraged with what’s happening. We will never have true equality in the country if [we]don’t have people on both sides of the aisle who are willing to stand up for what is fair.”