This morning, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski became the latest Republican to endorse same-sex marriage. Murkowski’s shift aligns with that of the country as a whole. But it does not align with that of the GOP as a whole. Murkowski is only the third Republican senator to take this stance, along with Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.
Murkowski announced her shift during a radio interview with the Anchorage affiliate of NBC News. She said she changed her views after meeting a same-sex couple and their adopted children, and acknowledged that this places her at odds with many Republicans. “There may be some that embrace the decision that I have made,” she said. “I recognize that it is an area that, as a Republican, I will be criticized for.”
In a statement released a little later, she further explained her shift, rooting it in the libertarianism that has become popular among some elements of the GOP. “If there is one belief that unifies most Alaskans — our true north — it is less government and more freedom. We don’t want the government in our pockets or our bedrooms; we certainly don’t need it in our families.”
The Human Rights Campaign — a pro-gay rights group — released a statement hailing Murkowski’s evolution on the issue. “Senator Murkowski’s courageous and principled announcement today sends a clear message that marriage equality must come to all 50 states in this country,” said HRC president Chad Griffin.
In a way, Murkowski’s shift is indicative of the country as a whole. Ten years ago, she was a staunch opponent of marriage equality, supporting a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on top of her support for the Defense of Marriage Act. But between now and then, same-sex marriage has entered the mainstream of American politics. Whereas a solid majority of Americans opposed marriage equality in the middle of last decade, the combination of greater exposure to LGBT people and potent pro-equality activism has created a solid majority in favor of same-sex marriage.
With all of that said, does Murkowski’s shift bode anything for the Republican Party writ large? Probably not. As the Post’s Michael Gerson correctly noted in a column yesterday, social conservatives are a large and important element of the GOP coalition. A handful of Republican lawmakers can safely endorse same-sex marriage. But there’s no space — at all — for a broad shift. Republicans need fierce support from social conservatives, and in the short term, that means broad opposition to marriage equality.
UPDATE: This post was written by Jamelle Bouie. The byline above is wrong because of a technical error, and will soon be changed.