Not that long ago, no lawmaker – Republican or Democrat – felt comfortable coming out as gay.
Kolbe wasn’t openly gay when he was elected to Congress, and he even voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 before coming out. Kolbe said he’d vote to repeal the law if he were still in Congress, calling it one of his most “unfortunate” votes.
The law had strong bipartisan support and was signed by then-President Bill Clinton. While Clinton and many of the lawmakers who voted for the act now say it’s discriminatory and should be repealed, the Republican Party’s platform contains a plank supporting a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said that wasn’t going to change.
“We’re going to leave the specific policy issues to our candidates, but on the topic of marriage, the RNC’s platform is clear that the GOP supports marriage between one man and one woman,” she said.
The Daily Beast website called attention last week to a memo by Republican pollster Jan van Lohuizen urging the party to moderate its stance on gay marriage, noting the dramatic change in public opinion on gay rights and a generational shift on the issue.
“I think a lot of Republicans are starting to play catch-up,” said R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, a gay rights group.
A CBS/New York Times poll conducted last Friday through Sunday found that 46 percent of Republicans supported legal recognition for same-sex couples. Among all Americans, 62 percent supported either marriage or civil unions for same-sex couples, the poll found, while 33 percent favored neither. Illustrating the generation gap, 70 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds supported either marriage or civil unions, while only 55 percent of respondents 45 and older did.Despite the changes, many in the Republican Party’s social conservative base still oppose same-sex marriage and, for those voters, Obama’s announcement last week became a rallying cry. In 2004, same-sex marriage was on the ballot in 11 states, and the issue was thought to have cost Democrats votes.Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement last week that the president’s announcement “almost ensures that marriage will again be a major issue in the presidential election.”
Republican leaders were more muted, preferring to keep their focus on what unites the party: fixing the economy and defeating Obama. Romney repeated his opposition to same-sex marriage, and said little else. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did much the same.
“Even though these issues keep coming up, they’re not election issues the way they were in 2004,” Haider-Markel said. “The economy dominates people’s thinking.”