Are Republicans dropping their opposition to gay marriage?
In a column for The American Conservative, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who ran for president in 2012, called on the Republican Party to embrace same-sex marriage. Warning that the GOP is in danger of becoming irrelevant, Huntsman said it was time for the party to redefine itself by returning to its Civil War roots as the champion of equal rights. "Conservatives should start to lead again and push their states to join the nine others that allow all their citizens to marry," Huntsman wrote. "I've been married for 29 years. My marriage has been the greatest joy of my life. There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love."
Huntsman appears to be adopting the same position as President Obama, who has stopped short of calling for a federal gay-marriage law, instead asserting that it is up to individual states to decide. That would put Huntsman well to the left of his party, whose 2012 platform affirmed that states and the federal government should not recognize same-sex marriages. And perhaps this development shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given Huntsman's reputation as a moderate, which quickly sank his chances in the 2012 GOP primary.
However, Huntsman's clarion call is a reminder of how quickly the politics surrounding gay marriage have changed, even within the Republican Party. This week, a pro-gay marriage group called Respect for Marriage Coalition released an advertisement featuring several prominent Republicans voicing their support for marriage equality, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and former First Lady Laura Bush. (Bush asked that she be removed from the ad, but has expressed support for same-sex marriage in the past.) And several Republican commentators have argued that the GOP risks losing an entire generation of young voters who are far more socially liberal than older Americans.
Back in 2011 and 2012, some far-sighted analysts wondered whether Huntsman, who was so obviously out of touch with the Republican base, was playing the longest of long games: Establishing his place near the center of the political spectrum on the bet that the GOP would lose in 2012 and come running back to him and his moderate ilk in 2016. The Republican Party may not be there yet, but Huntsman is surely making a bet now — that supporting gay marriage is the future of the GOP.