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Rob Horowitz: Republican Orthodoxy on Marriage Equality Cracking

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Two important recent developments highlight how the Republican Party’s anti-gay marriage orthodoxy is beginning to show some cracks.

Last week, prominent conservative Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced his change of heart. According to Portman, who was a finalist to be on the ticket with Mitt Romney, learning that his son was gay prompted a re-thinking of his stance. As the Senator told reporters, "It allowed me to think of this issue from a new perspective, and that's of a Dad who loves his son a lot and wants him to have the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have -- to have a relationship like Jane and I have had for over 26 years,"

Senator Portman’s journey is the same one being made by many other Americans as they discover that some of their close friends or family members are gay or lesbian. According to the Pew Research Center, people with family members or close friends who are gay or lesbian are twice as likely to support same sex marriage as those who do not have a close relationship with someone who is gay. According to Republican Pollster Jan van Lohuizen, the growth in the number of people who know someone close to them who is gay is driving the pronounced shift in public opinion towards support for same sex marriage: “As more people have become aware of friends and family members who are gay, attitudes have begun to shift at an accelerated pace.” the pollster explains.

Senator Portman’s big announcement comes on top of the news last month that more than 80 prominent Republicans have signed on to an amicus brief submitted to the US Supreme Court, which as the New York Times reported, “argues that gay people have a constitutional right to marry and urges the Court to strike down Proposition 8 in California and all similar bans.”

Among the signers were two current members of the House of Representatives, six former Governors including former Massachusetts’ Governors Weld, Celluci and Swift, and prominent operatives including former Reagan Chief of Staff Ken Duberstein, former Bush (43) Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman and former McCain campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, among others. They join Ted Olson, former Solicitor General under Bush, who in a demonstration of bi-partisan cooperation as well as the exercise of top flight legal talent has teamed up with noted Democratic super-lawyer David Boies to take on the case, which is scheduled for oral arguments in the US Supreme Court next week.

The brief makes a conservative case for marriage equality asserting that it fosters family values including the promotion of two-parent families. It also argues that state prohibitions on same sex marriage undermine individual freedom and are in conflict with the conservative notion of limited government.

With the State Senate Judiciary Committee holding a long awaited hearing on marriage equality legislation on Thursday, these national developments help fuel the growing momentum for its adoption here in Rhode Island (disclosure; Steve Archambault, who serves on the Judiciary Committee and supports marriage equality, is one of my clients).

At a minimum, if there is a vote on the floor, these declarations of support by some prominent national Republicans could influence the five Republican members of the State Senate--several of whom are up for grabs according to an analysis done by David Scharfenberg of The Providence Phoenix. Taken together, along with the results of a recent Brown Poll showing that 60% of Rhode Islanders support same sex marriage, it shouldn’t be hard for any still-undecided State Senators who are reading the political tea leaves on this issue to know which way the wind is blowing.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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