Republicans Take a Step Forward on Gay Marriage

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that dozens of leading Republicans have signed an amicus (friend of the court) brief in support of the constitutional right of gays to marry in two related cases being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The cases—one a suit against Propostion 8, California’s controversial ban on gay marriage, the other a challenge to the notorious Defense of Marriage Act—are being argued by prominent attorneys David Boies (who represented Vice-President Al Gore in Bush v. Gore) and Ted Olson, the conservative Republican former solicitor general.

Like Olson, the Times reported, the brief argues “that same-sex marriage promotes family values by allowing children of gay couples to grow up in two-parent homes, and that it advances conservative values of ‘limited government and maximizing individual freedom.’”

The effort is being organized by Ken Mehlman, former Republican National Committee chairman. Mehlman managed George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign when the Machiavellian Karl Rove put gay marriage resolutions on the ballots in key swing states.  By turning out “social conservatives” in droves, they helped W squeak by John Kerry.

Mehlman has since come out as gay and apologized for his role in that. But he has done more: By tapping into his formidable Rolodex of political connections and  as head of public affairs at Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts, the giant private equity firm, Mehlman has mobilized some very big names.

Among the 80 signatories were former Utah Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who ran for president in 2012; former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman; former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and Jane Swift; Hewlett Packard CEO and former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman; big donors Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb; and talking heads Mike Murphy, Mark McKinnon, Niccole Wallace, Steve Schmidt, Alex Castellanos and David Frum.

Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman speaks in Iowa for gay marriage. Source: YouTube/

Former RNC chairman Ken Mehlman speaks in Iowa for gay marriage. Source: YouTube/

Some absences were striking. Mary Cheney, the former vice president’s lesbian daughter, signed. But Dick and Lynn Cheney, who have supported gay marriage in the past, haven’t yet. Nor has her sister Liz, a politically ambitious neocon firebrand.

And former FCC chairman Michael Powell signed, but his father, Gen. Colin Powell, who also has supported gay marriage, hasn’t.

But the biggest absences were the names of current Republican office holders. Only two serving state senators and Rep. Richard Hanna of upstate New York and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami signed.

The case has a good chance of winning in the Supreme Court, and these big names might reach key Supreme Court Justices, five of whom are Republicans. I hope it does.

But once again it shows the Great Divide in the Republican Party between the elites, who are interested in economic freedom and fiscal responsibility, and the party’s great unwashed, who want to “take our country back” from an emerging America they fear.

Many of the latter group have gone off the deep end in the Obama years, but they still vote heavily in primaries, which gives Republican leaders limited room to maneuver. That’s why you won’t see Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, otherwise libertarian Rand Paul, or any of the Bushes signing on to this brief. It’s “box office poison” with the GOP base.

Smart Republicans should have learned three lessons from the 2012 election: 1. Reach out to Hispanics and Asians with real immigration reform. 2. Stop dissing women over birth control. 3. Opposing gay marriage is a losing proposition among younger voters.

No matter what the Supreme Court does, the gay marriage train already has left the station. Some well-known Republicans are on board, which is a good thing. But much of the party’s base and its most prominent leaders have been left behind.






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