Same-sex marriage gains GOP support

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 27, 2010; 11:41 PM

A growing number of Republicans are breaking with the party's traditional stance to publicly state their support for same-sex marriage, a shift strategists say stems as much from demographics as from the renewed focus on economics and the "tea party" movement.

A solid majority of adults younger than 30 - about six in 10 - support the right of gay and lesbian couples to legally wed, according to a Washington Post poll in February.

But even many older Americans and self-identified social conservatives have changed their view on an issue that just six years ago galvanized voters in support of President George W. Bush's reelection.

Gay Republican activists credit the shift to the heightened attention within the GOP base to jobs and the economy, and by a desire among strategists to expand the party's appeal.

"Our nation is at a crossroads, and conservatives are trying to rally together to turn back the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda," said Chris Barron, chairman of GOProud, a gay Republican group. "That's why we've seen people like Glenn Beck saying, 'Look, same-sex marriage isn't hurting anybody.' Because he sees a need to create a broad-based conservative movement."

Beck, a tea party favorite, recently told fellow Fox talk show host Bill O'Reilly that gay marriage was not "a threat to the country" and that marriage is a religious, not a governmental, issue.

A number of prominent Republicans have been more outspoken, stating that they support same-sex marriage rights. They include Meghan McCain, daughter of Sen. John McCain (Ariz.); "The View" commentator Elizabeth Hasselbeck; former first lady Laura Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney.

Ted Olson, solicitor general under Bush, was part of the legal team that successfully challenged Proposition 8, California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. And this week, former Republican operative Ken Mehlman disclosed that he is gay and that he will be raising money to support Olson's effort.

Also at play is the rise of the libertarian-leaning tea party movement. Many of the movement's leaders have said they oppose government intervention on marriage issues, while others say their concerns about taxation and the size of government supercede concerns over social issues.

"I come from a pretty strict upbringing in that I was raised Catholic," said Dawn Wildman, a coordinator for the California Tea Party Patriots, who said she personally opposes gay marriage. "But I have this strong belief in individualism. Not to mention that we don't have the luxury to think of the social issues right now."

One striking example of the tea party's ambivalence about social issues played out this summer in a House primary race in South Florida, where many tea party activists rallied around Donna Milo, a transgender Republican candidate who was seeking to challenge Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D). Milo came in third in the Aug. 24 primary.

Opposition to same-sex marriage has by no means disappeared in either party. President Obama has said he opposes the right of gay couples to marry, although he backs civil unions. Religiously inclined conservative groups such as the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family, whose political agenda has long overlapped with the GOP's, have continued to push back on the gains made by pro-gay marriage groups in recent years.

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