Opinion

Shift on same-sex marriage could ameliorate GOP tech woes

Josh Peterson Tech Editor

There is a quiet agreement among those in the Republican party connected to the tech community that a party shift on social issues, such as same-sex marriage, could boost efforts to recruit top engineering talent.

Post-election revelations of the Obama campaign’s technological prowess, contrasted with the Romney campaign’s Election Day Project ORCA debacle, only served to deepen feelings of technological inferiority in the GOP.

Despite Republicans having historically excelled through use of direct mail and television advertisements, the technology has changed, bringing Silicon Valley in contact with Washington more often.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the tech industry is centered in Silicon Valley, and we certainly know the political thought in that part of the country is very much libertarian,” said Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder and executive director of GOProud, a U.S. political action group that represents gay libertarians.

While Republicans hoped to win by concentrating on broader themes 0f economic freedom and the plight of small businesses, Democrats gained traction by promoting microeconomic issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and immigration — issues that resonate with the largely libertarian leanings of the younger generation that hails from Silicon Valley.

The presidential candidate to receive the second highest financial support from Google through employee contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, was Republican Rep. Ron Paul.

The small-government positions espoused by the right would seem attractive to the entrepreneurial spirit that pervades the tech industry. Efforts to recruit the best and the brightest in technology are being repelled by the GOP’s strict adherence to its traditional social stances — a view which was exacerbated by statements on abortion by former Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock.

“A lot of these people are fairly economically conservative,” said Patrick Ruffini, president of Engage, a DC-based digital agency.

“I think it’s more than just outreach, I think it has to deal with substantive political issues,” Ruffini said.

“I’m not saying that we should switch our position because just because of that,” he said, speaking to the tech industry’s stance on social issues, “but I think that plays a role in why it’s pretty lopsided.”

Obama’s so-called “evolution” on the issue of same-sex marriage (an area where he has shifted positions over the course of his political career), while much derided by the right, helped solidify his support from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

For example, numerous students that crowded the White House after Obama’s victory was announced waved LBGT rainbow flags, ecstatic over what they viewed as a moral victory on a modern civil rights issue.

“The other thing is that I think that since the beginning of time, human beings have sought out younger generations to figure out the tech stuff,” LaSaliva said.

A report by Buzzfeed the day after the election said that younger, more socially liberal Republican operatives were experiencing a sense of relief at the end of the election in the hopes that their own technological savvy would be taken into greater account in the coming election cycles.

“We’re living in a new political reality on the issue of same-sex marriage,” said LaSaliva, in reference to the state ballot measures on same-sex marriage that were passed during this election cycle.

LaSaliva noted, however, that Republicans showed in 2010 that they could win elections by focusing on the size and scope of government.

Still, he said, GOProud has a lot of gay and straight supporters from the tech industry. Even if an individual in the tech community is straight, chances are they know someone who is not.

High-profile examples of support for same-sex marriage from the tech community include the $2.5 million check from Jeff Bezos, Amazon co-founder and CEO, and his wife MacKenzie Bezos, in support of Washington’s gay marriage effort.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, have donated a total of $600,000 to the effort, as have Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his wife, Connie Snyder.

Tech executives and their spouses are not the only ones from the community advocating for same-sex marriage: Whole companies are taking a stand on the issue.

In July, Google announced a worldwide campaign, “Legalize Love,” in support of LGBT marriage.

That same month, Facebook announced that it was adding marriage icons that depicted same sex couples. In 2011, Facebook made “In a Civil Union” and “In a Domestic Partnership” available relationship status options for user profiles. Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is openly gay.

Such a shift would not be without consequences and backlash, as party division over same sex marriage has caused enormous infighting. One public fight was over GOProud’s higher profile participation in the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

More socially conservative institutions like The Heritage Foundation boycotted the event in the past, but voices sympathetic to gay libertarians — including the late Andrew Breitbart — offered to boycott CPAC in support of GOProud. Breitbart ultimately attended the event as a keynote speaker.

GOProud’s participation has since been downgraded, and Heritage and other have ended their boycott.

Others within the party — including RedState Editor Erick Erickson — have denounced GOProud for having an agenda they believe is not conservative.

Success in technology for Republicans, however, isn’t entirely dependent upon Silicon Valley support.

“You have companies being founded around politics whose founders are Democrats but who will also sell to Republicans,” Ruffini said.

“We must tap into a lot of the technology, because ultimately, this is business, and I think that Republicans need to be able to play ball with that,” he added.

“Do I think that there’s something to winning the hearts and minds of these folks? Sure, I think that would be amazing. Short of that, I would say co-opt all of the ideas that you can.”

Follow Josh on Twitter