Does the future of the GOP hinge on gay marriage? (+video)
As the Republican Party ponders and argues over its future following recent election losses, one social issue is becoming paramount: same-sex marriage, favored by increasing numbers of young conservatives as well as party operatives.
The future of the Republican Party â much debated since the GOPâs lackluster showing in last Novemberâs election, and especially at the weekend conservative hootenanny called CPAC â is tied to a lot of things:
The extent to which it can attract young, Hispanic, and women voters now more likely to vote Democrat, how quickly the economy recovers (and who is given credit or blame, House Republicans or the White House), perceptions about the partyâs concern for middle class and working class Americans â âthe 47 percentâ Mitt Romney disastrously derided during the presidential campaign.
But one issue is becoming increasingly important: same-sex marriage.
Thereâs a clear difference of opinion between younger and older voters, between younger and older elected Republicans, and certainly between social conservatives (in recent decades a key part of the GOP base) and those who confess to libertarian tendencies.
Generation by generation, the differences can be subtle but perhaps crucial.
For his part, House Speaker John Boehner indicates no inclination to join the trend toward public acceptance of same-sex marriage â a trend highlighted by Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio just switching to the pro-gay-marriage camp as a sign of love and support for his gay son.
"Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," Mr. Boehner said on ABCâs âThis Weekâ Sunday. "All right. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change."
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (nearly two decades younger than Boehner) has a slightly different take.
Acknowledging that thereâs âno doubtâ that younger conservatives generally accept gay marriage, he told NBCâs âMeet the Pressâ Sunday, âI think that's all the more reason, when I talk about things, I talk about the economic and fiscal crisis in our state and in our country.â
âThat's what people want to resonate about,â Gov. Walker said. âThey don't want to get focused on those issues."
In his much-watched speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Sen. Marco Rubio (younger still, and much-mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2016) essentially walked away from the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) â Washington defining marriage as one man and one woman.
"Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in the traditional way does not make me a bigot," he said â a not-so-subtle way of acknowledging that nine states and the District of Columbia already permit gay marriage and that DOMA is irrelevant, even though House Republicans (at Boehnerâs direction) are defending the law in court because the Obama administration refuses to.
In a CPAC presidential straw poll Saturday, Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky edged out Rubio 25-23 percent. Significantly, 52 percent of those who voted were age 18-25 â a sign that the libertarian-leaning Sen. Paul (like his father former Rep. Ron Paul before him) will continue to be a force as the 2016 election approaches. Itâs just the age bracket the GOP needs to attract, and itâs just the group inclined to have no problem with gay marriage.
Sen. Paulâs position, as outlined in a web interview with National Review, is that he may be an âold-fashioned traditionalistâ who believes in the âhistoric and religious definition of marriage.â
âThat being said, Iâm not for eliminating contracts between adults,â he said. âI think there are ways to make the tax code more neutral, so it doesnât mention marriage. Then we donât have to redefine what marriage is; we just donât have marriage in the tax code.â
Conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin agrees.
âGetting the federal government out of the marriage business, deferring to the states and allowing individuals to, as he says, enter into contracts with one another, can be the way out of the gay marriage thicket for the GOP,â she blogs. âWhatever the methodology, conservatives at the national levelÂ need to extract themselves from a losing battle that should not be within the purview of the federal governmentâŚ. Paul is dead right: It is time for conservatives to move on and start focusing on issues that are properly the concern of elected leaders and on which the public actually wants government to act.â
Writing in The Columbus Dispatch newspaper Friday, Sen. Portman urged conservatives to see that gay couplesâ desire to marry âdoesn't amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.â
âWe conservatives believe in personal liberty and minimal government interference in peopleâs lives. We also consider the family unit to be the fundamental building block of society,â he wrote. âWe should encourage people to make long-term commitments to each other and build families, so as to foster strong, stable communities and promote personal responsibility.â
Thatâs undoubtedly way too much of a stretch for the GOPâs social conservatives, especially religious traditionalists. But given the trends in public attitudes, it may be inevitable.
âFar from touching off a Beltway political firestorm, Portmanâs announcement that he has a gay son and now supports same-sex marriage drew a muted or even positive response from his fellow members of the Republican elite,â writes Alexander Burns on Politico. âThe reality Portmanâs flip-flop exposed is this: among the Republican political community, the people who actually run campaigns and operate super PACs, support for gay marriage is almost certainly a solid majority position. Among strategists born after the end of the Vietnam War, itâs not even a close call.â