A growing push to get Republicans to alter their position on same-sex marriage could put some of the party’s major donors and political strategists in conflict with social conservative activists who make up a large part of the GOP at the grassroots level.
The debate illustrates a wider rift between Republicans who believe their party is on the wrong side of history on gay rights generally and those who feel the GOP is marginalizing the social issues that inspired millions of evangelical Christians — a large Republican voting bloc — to enter politics.
The bipartisan Respect for Marriage Coalition has already released a pair of ads seeking to sway Republicans in favor of gay marriage, including a commercial featuring supportive comments from former first lady Laura Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Bush has asked for the footage of her, taken from a 2010 interview with CNN, to be removed from the ad.
More than 130 Republicans signed an amicus brief advising the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Proposition 8, California’s popularly enacted ban on gay marriage. This number includes several senior advisers to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, including top aide Beth Myers. Romney opposed gay marriage during his run for the White House.
“The only surprise here is that Romney himself didn’t join them,” social conservative leader Bob vander Plaats complained to the Washington Examiner.
Both Ken Mehlman, who managed George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign, and Steve Schmidt, a senior strategist for John McCain in 2008, subsequently endorsed gay marriage. Neither of their bosses campaigned as gay marriage supporters, however. At the time many political observers credited an Ohio ballot initiative against same-sex matrimony with helping Bush win a second term, although some later studies cast doubt on that theory.
One-third of Bush’s votes that year came from white evangelical Christians.
Mehlman announced that he was both gay and a supporter of same-sex marriage in 2010, more than three years after stepping down as chairman of the Republican National Committee. He has since apologized for not speaking out during the 2004 campaign.
Since then, there has been a pronounced shift in public opinion on the issue. A November 2012 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans “believe same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages.” That was tied for the highest public approval of gay marriage since Gallup began polling on the issue.