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GOP Shift on Gay Marriage Opposition

Politico reports this morning on the internal shift within the Republican Party on the gay marriage opposition issue, which has been taking place quietly for the past few years. The change has mirrored polling numbers, which show that public opinion has moved sharply in favor of gay marriage since 2008. But it’s still noteworthy that the Republican leadership in Congress isn’t just being passive on this. It has even worked to kill amendments that oppose gay marriage:

Even more than that, Republican leadership has evolved, too. It has quietly worked behind the scenes to kill amendments that reaffirm opposition to same-sex unions, several sources told Politico.

It’s not like the GOP has become a bastion of progressiveness on gay rights, but there has been an evolution in the political approach — and an acknowledgment of a cultural shift in the country. Same-sex relationships are more prominent and accepted. There are more gay public figures — including politicians — and it’s likely that many Washington Republicans have gay friends and coworkers. Just as important — there’s also a libertarian streak of acceptance on people’s sexuality coursing through the House Republican Conference.

Part of this is about the current political atmosphere. Republicans want to keep the message focused on jobs, the deficit and the economy – issues that will actually get voters mobilized. Bringing up gay marriage at this point would have no benefit for the GOP.

But there’s also the sense that the long-term trend is moving toward acceptance of gay marriage, even within the conservative movement. And Republicans just don’t have the appetite to fight a battle that will be lost, if not next year, then five or 10 years down the line:

Then there are those Republicans who have been fighting for gay rights for decades — people like Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son named Rodrigo, was the first Republican to co-sponsor the repeal of DOMA.

“Also,” she wrote in an email to Politico, “the younger generation is not as fixated on many social issues, as important as they are to other folks. Marriage equality is an issue that is evolving in people’s minds and hearts. As with many controversial issues, the passage of time makes us more comfortable with change.”

If you want to get a sense of where the traditional marriage movement is heading, the recent controversy over the National Organization for Marriage’s leaked action plan – which called for driving a wedge between gay and black people after Proposition 8 – is a good place to start. As correct as NOM may have been from a tactical standpoint (the black community’s support for Prop. 8 helped kill gay marriage in California), the ick-factor here is incredibly high. Just look at the language: NOM said it was seeking to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks”; “provoke” gay marriage supporters into “denouncing these [African American] spokesmen and women as bigots”; and “fanning the hostility raised in the wake of Prop. 8.” This isn’t the language or the vision of a noble cause, and it certainly doesn’t sound like one that supporters can feel good about belonging to.