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Will gay marriage split the GOP?
While Republican officials want to make room for same-sex marriage supporters, social conservatives threaten to walk
 
"I don't believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics," Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus says of the party's need to address same-sex marriage.
"I don't believe we need to act like Old Testament heretics," Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus says of the party's need to address same-sex marriage.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The GOP platform is pretty clearly opposed to gay marriage. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, however, says the party shouldn't shun people who think same-sex couples should have the right to wed. Days before the Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments on the issue on Tuesday, Republicans issued a stinging assessment of their failures in the November elections, and Priebus and other leaders said the party had to change to win presidential contests. That, says Priebus, means striking "a balance between principle and grace and respect," instead of acting "like Old Testament heretics."

Priebus isn't the only influential Republican who thinks the party should soften its views on gay marriage. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman reversed his opposition recently after a soul-searching he started upon learning that his son is gay. And Karl Rove, George W. Bush's trusted former strategist, said he could imagine the GOP nominating a presidential candidate who backs gay marriage. "On no other public policy issue have attitudes changed as rapidly as on gay marriage," says Eleanor Clift at The Daily Beast. If forward-thinking Republicans don't break away and start making the party more friendly to gay-marriage advocates, public opinion will leave the GOP behind.

Once a wedge issue that worked to the advantage of the GOP, gay marriage is now seen as benefiting the Democratic Party.

"This issue has been lost. It's about time Republicans get over it," says Ron Haskins, a former Bush White House official who co-directs the Center for Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. "Having hung out with Republicans for many years and knowing Republicans who either themselves were gay or had sons or daughters who were gay, Republicans always were very queasy about this issue," he says. "Republicans think the less said, the better, but there's a certain amount of relief. It's hard to be a consistent conservative and be opposed to gay marriage." [Daily Beast]

If the GOP does soften its opposition to gay marriage, however, it will pay a price. "They might, and if they do, they're going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk," 2008 GOP presidential hopeful and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tells Newsmax. "And it's not because there's an anti-homosexual mood, and nobody's homophobic that I know of," says Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor, "but many of us, and I consider myself included, base our standards not on the latest Washington Post poll, but on an objective standard, not a subjective standard."

The GOP's internal debate is unavoidable — social conservatives and moderates and libertarians just don't see eye to eye on this issue. And 85 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds favor gay marriage, so the party is going to have to deal with it to appeal to younger voters in 2016 and beyond. But whether the fight causes a harmful split within the GOP could depend on the Supreme Court. Republicans are "better off if the court surprises everyone and upholds Prop 8," says Allahpundit at Hot Air. Then 2016 candidates can satisfy everyone, sort of, placate social conservatives by saying they personally oppose same-sex marriage but, "as good federalists, they want local voters to decide this issue for themselves."

That sort of squishy middle-way stance won't dazzle anyone on either side but it might hold the Republican coalition together by reassuring Huck and his supporters that red states will still get to chart their own course. It might also be acceptable to young voters in the sense that the potential GOP nominee won't be standing in the way of gay marriage in states when the votes are there. But note: The squishy position won't work if the Court does end up legalizing gay marriage this summer. In that case, taking the federalist position via a constitutional amendment will be seen as an attempt to roll back marriage rights that gays have already won. [Hot Air]

 
Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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