A public polling released by Quinnipiac University last week showed that the approval rating of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) dropped more than 10 points after he publicly shifted his position regarding the issue of same-sex marriage in March. Portman announced that he decided to change his position out of the hope that his son, Will, who is gay, can enjoy freedom to marry as his siblings do. While it is not surprising to see his approval rating drop dramatically, one question still surfaces up in many same-sex marriage supporters' minds after witnessing a wave of Republican politicians reverse their position regarding same-sex marriage: whether these waves of changes can contribute to the ultimate legalization of same-sex marriage or not?
It all started when Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, initiated a legal brief that summoned more than 100 Republicans to push for the constitutional legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States. This action has led other Republican politicians to follow Mehlman's steps and reverse their stance regarding the issue of same-sex marriage. In a recent panel held by Cato Institute discussing the Supreme Court's first two days' reasoning regarding the Proposition 8 and DOMA cases, Mehlman pointed out the significant fact that politicians need to know who are the voters that they are speaking to and how much do they care about the issue.
"We found strong support for rights associated with marriage among Republican supporters," said Mehlman at the panel. "The number of Republican elected officials, in the last two years, who had voted for marriage has doubled. There are 203 Republicans nationally and statewide that had voted for come out for marriage."
Ilya Shapiro, the senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, said that society would be seeing more Republicans come out and support same-sex marriage publicly in the coming years. This phenomenon will make same-sex marriage legalization become easier. While public opinions and polls are gradually shifting, politicians are also feeling the need to follow public opinions.
"It's striking how public polls and younger generation play important roles in this," said Shapiro. "I think this change won't be temporary because it is highly decided by age. In the long term, I think that the entire Republican Party will move more toward supporting same-sex marriage."
Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, held a slightly different position regarding Republicans' position toward same-sex marriage. He described it as a generational effect that the party will soon face a generational shift. While younger politicians will most likely be more liberal toward same-sex marriage, Olson said he wouldn't expect the entire party to support same-sex marriage for a long time.
As Evan Wolfson, the President of Freedom to Marry points out during the panel, we should all remain cautious while making predictions about the Supreme Court's final ruling on Proposition 8 and DOMA cases. While all panelists agree that DOMA section three has the chance to be struck down either on the ground of federalism or equal protection, it's still too early to make absolute predictions about the outcome.
"Freedom to marry has the momentum and winning strategies, but we also need to keep doing the work," said Wolfson. "The opponents were only pushing us not to go too fast and push it now."
While other Republican politicians might encounter the same situation as Rob Portman does, it is clear that the general public's opinion is starting to exercise larger influence on them than opinions of Republican supporters. Although it might still be too early to conclude the result of the Supreme Court's ruling on Proposition 8 and DOMA, perhaps we could start dreaming that the ultimate success of legalizing same-sex marriage is just around the corner.