The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The first openly gay Republican elected to Congress? It just might be Richard Tisei.

Republican Richard Tisei’s second bid to unseat Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass) is fueled in large part by his desire to be a GOP voice in favor of gay marriage, even though that desire isn’t shared by the Massachusetts Republican Party.

(Video: Five questions for Richard Tisei)

In an interview Wednesday, Tisei stressed the importance of bridging the gap between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of gay marriage. But he acknowledged that he might be ahead of the curve, even within a state like Massachusetts, which is traditionally liberal on social issues.

Last week, Bay State Republicans passed a socially conservative platform that declared support of “traditional marriage” - a decision that has caused friction inside the party’s own ranks, and that has left Tisei, an openly gay former state legislator, frustrated.

“It’s disappointing actually because we’ve made so much progress in Massachusetts,” he said in an interview. “So many attitudes have changed here among Republicans.”

Tisei said that while he doesn’t believe the GOP, either at the state or national level, should wholly reinvent itself in order to be more accommodating to gay rights supporters, “they would be wise to look back and see what the Republican Party historically has always been about, and try to renew our commitment to the values we were founded on.”

Tisei, who would be the first openly gay Republican to win a congressional seat as a non-incumbent, said Massachusetts is in a perfect position to help the GOP begin to embrace gay rights more broadly, given its legacy as the first state to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, which it began doing in 2004.

“We’ve had it for 10 years in our state,” Tisei said of gay marriage. “We are well beyond where the country is right now, and it’s unfortunate to see the party take a step back to sort of give the nod to some of the more conservative activists in the party.”

Gay marriage is now legal in 17 states and D.C., and public support for the issue has grown steadily over the last decade. Half of all Americans believe that gays and lesbians have the legal right to marriage, according to a new Washington Post-ABC news poll.

In 2012, Tisei lost narrowly to Tierney, who was politically weakened following a gambling ring scandal involving his brother-in-law and his wife. During his last run he received the support of House Republican leadership and several prominent gay conservatives.