Attitudes toward same-sex marriage are shifting in the US. Some Republicans worry that the GOP may be alienating the next generation of young conservatives if the party continues to oppose gay marriage.
He surely didn’t plan it this way, but the announcement by US Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio that he now supports same-sex marriage highlighted the Conservative Political Action Conference’s difficulty with one of the most contentious political issues.
Some at the three-day CPAC meeting of conservative activists and prominent Republicans hit gay marriage head-on.
"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot," US Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida told a cheering crowd.
“We cannot hope to limit government if we do not stand up for our core civil society institutions, beginning with marriage,” said former Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina, now president of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"People can love whom they want and live the way they choose," Mr. DeMint said, "but no one is entitled to redefine a foundational institution of civil society that has existed for centuries."
“What we need is people standing up more than ever for marriage as between a man and a woman,” Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, told one panel discussion.
But another panel at the CPAC convention site – this one unofficial and titled “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the coalition, bringing tolerance out of the closet” – heard a different message.
“As a society we should in some way encourage people to live in the institution of marriage when they can,” Jonah Goldberg, editor at large for the conservative National Review, told the group. “Besides, it’s a free society and they should be free to form whatever associations they want.”
Sen. Portman’s change of heart on same-sex marriage came when his college-age son told his family that he’s gay.
Although some observers wondered why it took a personal situation in Portman’s family (as it did with former vice president Dick Cheney), the move has been welcomed by advocates of gay marriage.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni (who is gay) called Portman’s announcement “profoundly emblematic.”
“Coming right after the widely publicized amicus brief in favor of gay marriage that dozens of prominent Republicans signed, Portman’s remarks illustrate a rapid movement by, and rising tension within, a party that has largely allied itself with social conservatives and is bit by bit breaking with them on this issue,” Mr. Bruni blogged on the newspaper’s web site.