GOP treads lightly on gay marriage issue

by
May 11, 2012

By , Washington Post

As the run-up to the general election intensifies, same-sex marriage offers the parties one of their sharpest contrasts. But in a reversal of strategy from eight years ago, when President George W. Bush’s reelection team seized on the issue to energize his party’s social conservative base and win over some swing voters opposed to gay marriage, the Republicans of 2012 are so far treating the issue gingerly.

In the 24 hours since President Obama announced his support for gay marriage and turned it into a hot-button campaign issue, presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republican leaders have chosen their words carefully.

Romney reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage. “I believe that marriage has been defined the same way for literally thousands of years by virtually every civilization in history and that marriage is by its definition a relationship between a man and woman,” Romney said Thursday on Fox News. But he added that same-sex couples should have the right to adopt children and start families, adding that the marriage issue was “tender and sensitive.”

Those sensitivities reach deep into Romney’s coalition. Some top Republicans described a growing divide within the GOP, with most of the party’s elected leaders in step with the social conservative base by publicly opposing same-sex marriage but softening their tone to avoid alienating the moderate middle.

Some of Romney’s biggest financial backers — including Lewis M. Eisenberg, a former Republican National Committee finance chairman, and hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Daniel S. Loeb — have become public advocates for gay marriage, as have other Romney supporters, including former vice president Dick Cheney and former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton.

Behind the scenes, influential donors and top strategists are counseling Republican candidates to avoid hot rhetoric or stigmatizing gay people, fearing a potential backlash from voters, who, polling suggests, are fast growing more open to gay marriage.

Steve Schmidt, a strategist for John McCain’s 2008 campaign as well as Bush’s campaigns, said Obama’s announcement Wednesday drew attention to “deep division” within the GOP on the issue.

“This really spotlights a fissure in the Republican Party between the southern evangelical wing of the party — where they don’t mind government intrusion into the bedroom and into individuals’ private space — and the limited-government side of the party,” Schmidt said. “Looking back at this from 50 years in the future, people who are on the wrong side of this issue aren’t going to stand very well in history’s light.”

To read more, visit: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/gop-treads-lightly-on-gay-marriage-issue/2012/05/10/gIQAk4LtGU_story.html

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