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GOP Candidates’ Anti-Gay Stances: Winning Strategy, Or Out of Touch?

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by Peter Cassels
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According to a Washington Post poll, 6 out of 10 voters under 30, including Republicans, now favor full marriage equality. Even more telling, several prominent Republicans now support gays and lesbians being able to marry. They include former first lady Laura Bush, daughter Barbara, Lynne and Dick Cheney, and 2008 presidential nominee John McCain’s wife Cindy and daughter Meghan.

A self-described "progressive Republican," Meghan McCain is fighting what often seems like a one-woman campaign to pull her party kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Speaking at the 2009 Log Cabin Republicans convention, McCain said there was "a war brewing in the Republican Party" between the past and the future, and that "most of the old school Republicans are scared shitless of that future."

She wrote in 2009 in her column in The Daily Beast, "At the most basic level, sexual orientation should not be a factor in how you are treated. If the Republican Party has any hope of gaining substantial support from a wider, younger base, we need to get past our anti-gay rhetoric."

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and one of the most prominent presidential-election analysts in the country, mentioned evolving attitudes in an interview with EDGE. "There has been a sea change in Americans’ views on gay rights," he said. "Large majorities now favor almost every category of anti-discrimination rights."

"Those between 18 and 33 are very attuned to social issues like gay rights, and by a wide margin, they take the libertarian view," Sabato noted.

GOP Sea Change on Social Issues
Darrell West, a vice president at the Brookings Institution, a prominent think tank, agreed.

"A growing number of voters favor various aspects of gay rights so it is short-sighted for Republican candidates to oppose popular proposals," said West. "It does not advance long-term GOP prospects. Younger voters are very sympathetic to a gay rights agenda and their power will increase in coming years."

Veteran observer Sabato detects a dramatic change among Republican students on social issues. "While there are certainly social conservatives still in their number, majority opinion now seems firmly tilted in the libertarian direction on gay rights," he told EDGE.

"I’ve come across a fair number of pro-life/pro-gay rights young Republicans, interestingly," he added. "Sooner or later, this trend will manifest itself in GOP politics. Eventually, these young Republicans will age and begin running things -- and the same is true for all current 18-33 year olds. When they are fully in charge, remaining barriers to gay and lesbian equality will likely fall. Generational replacement is an absolute inevitability, and there are policy consequences."

Gay Rights: Out for Good
That’s not to say that gay rights should not be a taboo topic of discussion among presidential candidates, both analysts contend.

"In my view, absolutely anything the candidates choose to raise should be an issue," Sabato said. "No one should draw lines about what it is legitimate or illegitimate for a candidate to raise. First Amendment rights apply, especially to political speech." He added this caution, however: "They have to live with their positions and they will be held accountable for them."

"Candidates should worry about anti-gay positions backfiring both in the short as well as the long term," warned West.

Next page: GOProud Weighs In



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