Paul Ryan gay adoption: Is his support a big deal?

Paul Ryan: Gay adoption is an idea he now supports, although the former GOP VP candidate still opposes gay marriage. His change of heart is another indication that the political ground on gay rights is shifting rapidly in the US.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, in March. Ryan said he now supports the right of same-sex couples to adopt children, however he still opposes gay marriage.

On Monday, former GOP VP candidate Paul Ryan said he now supports the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. Representative Ryan added that he still opposes gay marriage, however.

The forum was a town-hall meeting in his home state of Wisconsin. Asked a question on gay rights, Ryan said that in 1999 or 2000, he had voted against allowing adoptions by same-sex couples in the District of Columbia, but that he’d be a “yea” on that issue if it came up today.

“I do believe that if there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple – I think if a person wants to love and raise a child, they ought to be able to do that. Period. I would vote that way. I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman; we just respectfully disagree on that issue,” Ryan said.

The Wisconsin lawmaker elaborated a bit on this position in remarks to a local television reporter, saying he’d felt that way for years, but he’s never talked about it publicly. He gave no indication if a defining moment or event caused the change of heart.

Is this a big deal? Well, it’s a medium-sized deal, at least – one more indication that the political ground on gay rights is shifting rapidly in the United States. Coming after Sen. Rob Portman (R) of Ohio announced that he now supports same-sex marriage, in part because he has a gay son, Ryan’s announcement shows that even fiscally conservative former national-ticket candidates now feel they must make some sort of accommodation to the growing social acceptance of gays in the US.

After all, 61 percent of respondents to a December 2012 Gallup poll said they were in favor of gay couples having adoption rights. And the trend line is moving in a more tolerant direction: In another 2012 Gallup survey, 36 percent of Americans said they've become more accepting of same-sex marriage over the course of their lifetimes.

This is something any politician with national ambitions will have to take into account. And Ryan is widely thought to harbor at least thoughts about a 2016 race for the Oval Office.

If so, he may still have some way to go to attract significant same-sex support. As Rebecca Leber and Zack Ford note at the liberal-leaning ThinkProgress website, Ryan currently has a “zero” rating on gay rights from the Human Rights Campaign.

He supported the Defense of Marriage Act (signed into law by President Clinton in 1996) and opposed the repeal of the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding gay service members.

As Ms. Leber and Mr. Ford note, Ryan may now get further press on the same-sex marriage front. One of the main arguments of gay-marriage opponents is that children are better off with different-sex parents.

“Now it seems he supports allowing same-sex families to raise children, but he still opposes providing those families with the same legal protections afforded to opposite-sex parents,” according to ThinkProgress.

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