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 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:28 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT