Accepting Marriage Equality Will Be Critical in the GOP's Future

On June 24 2011, Republican state senator Mark Grisanti cast his vote for the Marriage Equality Act and helped to bring about same-sex marriage in New York. It was a landmark moment for gay rights in the United States, and it would not have happened without the support of Grisanti and three other Republican senators who chose to cross party lines to help the bill pass: Stephen Saland, James Alesi, and Roy J. McDonald.

These senators were heroes in the eyes of gay marriage advocates, but when it came time to run for re-election the following year, three of the four men lost their jobs. Senator Saland’s campaign raised a lot of money ($425,000) with political and financial support from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, but any momentum he gained from new gay rights’ supporters was crushed by conservative party challenger Neil Di Carlo who called Mayor Bloomberg and other Saland followers “radical homosexualists.”

That of course was 2011, and today many Republicans have a new outlook on gay marriage brought on by growing support for marriage equality among the younger members of their party.

More than half of young Republicans now support the legalization of same-sex marriage in their state, as do 62% of Americans ages 18-34. This represents a clear shift in opinion among millennials over the last decade, and should inspire Republican Party members to rethink their official platform position on marriage, which states that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.

Former GOP presidential contender Jon Huntsman addressed this issue a few weeks ago in an op-ed piece for The American Conservative titled “Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause,” in which he stated that his party needs to be “honest about our time and place in history” and “come to the table with solutions that put our communities first.”

For Huntsman, putting communities “first” means allowing same-sex partners to marry, and as the article title suggests, he thinks Republicans should lead the charge and “push their states to join the nine others that allow their citizens to marry.”

Leading the charge is easier said than done, and while some politicians like Huntsman are outspoken supporters of marriage equality, others are aware that in the past supporting gay marriage has amounted to political suicide.

Last Friday, for example, the chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Pat Brady, was very close to being fired for supporting a bill to end Illinois’ ban on gay marriage. And it seems like right now the greatest champions for marriage equality in the Republican Party are retired, and therefore unconcerned with running for reelection.

A couple weeks ago over 80 Republicans signed and submitted a brief supporting gay marriage to the Supreme Court in an attempt to convince the court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act; Of these 80 politicians, however, many were former governors and cabinet members for President George W. Bush, and others were staff members from the failed Mitt Romney and John McCain presidential campaigns who are not worried about upcoming elections.

Still, as young people and Americans in general continue to push for marriage equality (83% believe same-sex marriage will be legal nationwide in the next five to 10 years), it’s important that the GOP does not lose touch with the social views circulating amongst its younger party members. Huntsman’s concern that “the marketplace of ideas will render us [the Republican Party] irrelevant” is valid, since millennials represent both the future of the party and a key voting demographic in every election.