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Does the future of the GOP hinge on gay marriage? (+video)

As the Republican Party ponders and argues over its future following recent election losses, one social issue is becoming paramount: same-sex marriage, favored by increasing numbers of young conservatives as well as party operatives.

By Staff writer / March 17, 2013

This undated photo provided by the office of U.S. Senator Rob Portman shows Sen. Portman, right, and his son, Will. Sen. Portman is now supporting gay marriage and says his reversal on the issue began when he learned Will is gay.

Office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman/AP

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The future of the Republican Party – much debated since the GOP’s lackluster showing in last November’s election, and especially at the weekend conservative hootenanny called CPAC – is tied to a lot of things:

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The extent to which it can attract young, Hispanic, and women voters now more likely to vote Democrat, how quickly the economy recovers (and who is given credit or blame, House Republicans or the White House), perceptions about the party’s concern for middle class and working class Americans – “the 47 percent” Mitt Romney disastrously derided during the presidential campaign.

But one issue is becoming increasingly important: same-sex marriage.

There’s a clear difference of opinion between younger and older voters, between younger and older elected Republicans, and certainly between social conservatives (in recent decades a key part of the GOP base) and those who confess to libertarian tendencies.

Generation by generation, the differences can be subtle but perhaps crucial.

For his part, House Speaker John Boehner indicates no inclination to join the trend toward public acceptance of same-sex marriage – a trend highlighted by Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio just switching to the pro-gay-marriage camp as a sign of love and support for his gay son.

"Listen, I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman," Mr. Boehner said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday. "All right. It's what I grew up with. It's what I believe. It's what my church teaches me. And I can't imagine that position would ever change."

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (nearly two decades younger than Boehner) has a slightly different take.

Acknowledging that there’s “no doubt” that younger conservatives generally accept gay marriage, he told NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, “I think that's all the more reason, when I talk about things, I talk about the economic and fiscal crisis in our state and in our country.”

“That's what people want to resonate about,” Gov. Walker said. “They don't want to get focused on those issues."

In his much-watched speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Sen. Marco Rubio (younger still, and much-mentioned as a presidential candidate in 2016) essentially walked away from the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – Washington defining marriage as one man and one woman.

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