Skip to main content

Slowly, GOP shifting on same-sex marriage

By Margaret Hoover, CNN Contributor
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Thu March 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Margaret Hoover: Sen. Rob Portman most recent GOP'er to support same-sex marriage
  • She says conservative values, golden rule allow more in GOP to accept change
  • She says more in GOP see marriage as stabilizing force, good for economy
  • Hoover: To regain relevance with voters, the GOP must reject bigotry that holds it back

Editor's note: Margaret Hoover is the author of "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party."

(CNN) -- This is what party modernization looks like.

Last Friday, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced he is now a supporter of the freedom to marry. What changed his thinking after voting against gay rights in the past? Finding out that his son -- a Yale sophomore -- was gay, and realizing that sexual orientation is not a choice but an innate quality.

"I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married," he said.

Margaret Hoover
Margaret Hoover

Portman's change of heart is significant because he is the highest-ranking elected Republican in America, who is currently in office, to endorse same-sex marriage. But he joins a growing number of Republicans who have already done just that.

Indeed, Portman is just the latest addition to an increasingly common occurrence in Republican politics at the county, city and state level.

To date 208 elected Republican state legislators have voted to legalize same-sex marriage in 13 states: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming. Only nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage, but GOP elected officials have voted for marriage when it came up for vote in their legislative chambers in Illinois, Wyoming and Rhode Island, though the law hasn't yet passed in those states.

Sutter: Gay people live in 50 Americas

The conservative argument for marriage includes a recognition of the traditional value of marriage as a stabilizing force in society. Another, economic argument holds that married individuals tend to accumulate more wealth than single individuals (putting them at lesser risk of state dependency), not to mention that marriage produces more government revenue through taxation. California's ban on same-sex marriage cost San Francisco $37.2 million per year in receipts, according to Ted Egan, chief economist in the San Francisco Controller's Office.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The elected officials who support same-sex marriage are surfing a rapidly rising tide among Republican rank-and-file. A new ABC/Washington Post Poll shows that 52% of Republicans younger than 50 support same-sex marriage.

There are good reasons for this. Conservative faith traditions argue rightly for strict religious protections in the law so that churches, synagogues and mosques aren't forced to perform ceremonies inconsistent with their religious teachings. But Americans' diverse religious backgrounds have the Golden Rule in common, and conservatives in favor of civil marriage argue that it is consistent with faith traditions for Republican policies to treat others, including gays and lesbians, with the same level of respect and fairness under the law that we wish for ourselves.

Constitutional conservatives point to the role of the courts in protecting fundamental rights. They argue that marriage is such a right, enshrined in the constitution, and one that cannot be subject to the whims or tyranny of a majority of voters, even if they were to wish to limit the freedoms of gay and lesbians. More and more Republicans are recognizing and respecting the essential dignity of individuals who are gay and deserve the full rights of citizenship, just like their straight brothers and sisters.

Opinion: Gay marriage, then group marriage?

These are the messages that last November brought Republicans and independents to the voting booth in Maryland, Maine and Washington, where same-sex marriage was approved for the first time by voters, not courts or legislatures. Minnesotans, who rejected a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in November, are now poised to legalize marriage this legislative season, with the historic distinction of bipartisan support: Republican State Sen. Branden Petersen is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The timing of Portman's announcement is no accident. In less than a week, Theodore Olson, George W. Bush's solicitor general and a charter member of the conservative Federalist Society, will argue before the United States Supreme Court that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. Accompanying him is an amicus brief, signed by 135 prominent Republicans, (I was also a co-signer) making the conservative case for same-sex marriage, an effort organized by former Republican National Committee Chair Ken Mehlman.

Santorum on Portman's gay marriage support
Senator's son comes out, reverses stance
GOP report: Party is too old, too white
GOP looks toward the future

It's hard to imagine that the justices aren't taking notes on our country's rapid transformation on this issue.

The final safe haven within the conservative movement for anti-gay bigotry -- the American Conservative Union's CPAC convention, held last week in Maryland -- received more than a few hearty smackdowns. The editors of National Review, the conservative movement's founding publication, chided CPAC's exclusion of gay conservatives, which was followed by a convention panel hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute entitled, "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet" (full disclosure: I spoke on that panel).

Listen: Voices from the Southern closet

Finally, the conservative intellectual pillar Charles Murray took the CPAC stage to argue that the conservative movement must accept same-sex marriage if it wishes to win elections in the future.

The data are inescapable: 62% of all Republicans believe in either same-sex marriage or another form of legal recognition of same-sex relationships and 73% of Republicans support employment nondiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians. At this point, the support for same-sex marriage from former Vice President Cheney, former first lady Laura Bush and former Secretary of State Colin Powell is icing on the cake. In the words of Portman, this is less a partisan issue than a generational issue.

Portman embodies the formula for GOP modernization: a conservatism that unapologetically applies the principle of individual freedom consistently to both fiscal and social policy. The senator has breathed new life into a national party grasping for traction with young Americans.

To regain relevance, the beltway's Republican establishment organizations owe a debt of gratitude to leaders like Portman, Peterson and New York Rep. Richard Hanna for representing their family's and friends' right to equal freedom and opportunity. They, and others like them, are making the case for a relevant modern conservative movement.

Pro-marriage-freedom Republicans are on the right side of history and in time their courage and contributions will help erase the stain of bigotry that holds the conservative movement back and stops us from connecting to a rising generation of Americans.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Margaret Hoover

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT