To win, GOP must wake up on same-sex marriage

Story highlights

  • Margaret Hoover: Court ruling on same-sex marriage reflects what most Americans, including increasing number of conservatives, believe
  • She says surveys by conservative pollsters have found that GOP candidates would do well to stop opposing gay marriage, focus energies elsewhere

Margaret Hoover is the president of the right-leaning advocacy group American Unity Fund, and author of "American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party." She is the host of SiriusXM's "Get It Right with Margaret Hoover." The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)On Friday the Supreme Court of the United States agreed with what many Republicans have already concluded: that the Constitution guarantees all Americans the freedom to marry under the law and it cannot be infringed by the state. The conservative movement was founded on core principles of liberty, individual freedom, limited government and building and promoting strong families.

This ruling etches in stone that the freedom to marry for all loving couples is consistent with these values.
Margaret Hoover
Republican attitudes on same-sex marriage have changed dramatically in recent years, with more Republicans supporting the freedom to marry today than ever before. A recent poll, commissioned by two right-leaning groups, American Unity Fund, of which I am the president, and Project Right Side, founded by Ken Mehlman, former Republican National Committee Chairman, reflects what most Americans -- including an increasing number of Republicans -- believe.
    Five preeminent GOP pollsters -- including Jan van Lohuizen, who served as pollster to President George W. Bush, and Adam Geller, who conducts polls for presumptive future presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie -- surveyed over 2,000 registered voters across the country, while at the same time polling 500 likely Republican voters from the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. This is the first time that GOP pollsters collaborated to conduct such a large-scale survey on same-sex marriage.
    Our poll shows that standing for marriage freedom is both safe and smart politics for Republican candidates. All 2016 candidates, whether they are running for president or local offices should be mindful of how Americans and many Republicans now feel about same-sex marriage -- especially among the key constituencies that the party must convince if it is to win the White House.
    The poll found that 74% of all millennials (18-34) and 61% of young Republicans believe gay and lesbian couples should have the freedom to marry. Another key demographic, Hispanics, have also come out largely in support of same-sex marriage: 67% of all Hispanic voters in the poll said they believe gays and lesbians should have the freedom to marry.
    While in 2011 only 14% of Republicans favored same-sex marriage, that number has nearly tripled and today 39% of Republicans support the freedom to marry. But what makes me most optimistic is that the majority of Republicans are now ready to move on from the "gay marriage debate."
    Currently, 53% of all Republicans in our poll agreed with the statement: "Things are changing, so at the end of the day, being for traditional marriage without animosity is where I stand. If the Supreme Court rules sometime this year that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, it will be time for us to move forward as a society."
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    These poll results tell us where the hearts and minds of Republicans are -- that it is time for us to focus on issues that unite the country and move on from divisive social wedge issues of the past.
    While many Republican presidential candidates are hesitant to publicly support marriage equality, the worst thing Republican candidates can do is support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Court's ruling. As conservatives consider various responses to today's events, they should recall their experiences with Roe v. Wade, where pursuing a constitutional amendment not only failed, but divided the conservative coalition for decades. Socially conservative Republican presidential candidates would do best to unite around policies that will both strengthen marriage and protect religious liberties -- rather than fruitlessly trying to tell fellow Americans who they can and can't marry.
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    And yet, even as we celebrate this historic decision, the worst thing we could do is lull ourselves to sleep with the false believe that LGBT freedom is now complete. The reality is that LGBT Americans in 28 states can be legally fired from their jobs for marrying the person they love, and denied the opportunity to buy their first home because they are in a same-sex relationship. In 33 states LGBT Americans can be denied public accommodations available to every other American because of whom they love.
    Which is why the effort to pass a comprehensive federal nondiscrimination bill is so important.
    The conservative values of limited government and freedom for all coincide with the movement for full freedom and equality for LGBT Americans. Now that many of my fellow Republicans agree with the outcome from the Supreme Court's ruling, it is time for us to unite around comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for all LGBT Americans that successfully balance robust protections for religious freedom.