No time to run from marriage issue

Republicans usually stand to benefit whenever cultural issues arise in an election campaign. But they too often run away from debates over issues related to marriage, life and religion.

With President Obama’s acknowledgement last week that he supports same-sex marriage, Republicans have been handed a political gift that could keep on giving until Election Day, but only if they take advantage of it.

Unfortunately, the Republican response has been muted, to say the least. As Politico has reported about the initial Republican response to Obama’s announcement, “Republican officeholders went out of their way Thursday to try to shift the conversation back to the economy. The GOP’s House and Senate campaign committees practically ignored it. And prominent Republican strategists are warning the party to steer clear of it.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, when House Speaker John Boehner was asked about Obama’s announcement, he “repeatedly tried to steer the discussion back to the economy. ‘The American people are concerned about the economy,’ he said in response to one question. ‘I’m going to stay focused on what the American people want,’ he said to another.”

“I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” he continued. “And the president and the Democrats can talk about all this all they want. But the fact is, the American people are focused on our economy and they’re asking the question, where are the jobs?”

Sadly, Republicans’ unwillingness to talk about what strategists refer to as “divisive social issues” is nothing new. It seems to happen every election cycle. And on issues related to the gay-rights agenda, Republicans are particularly skittish.

Consider this paragraph in a recent Politico story about congressional Republicans’ handling of same-sex marriage:

“It’s been one of the swiftest shifts in ideology and strategy for Republicans, as they’ve come nearly full circle on same-sex politics. What was once a front-and-center issue for rank-and-file Republicans — the subject of many hotly worded House and Senate floor speeches — is virtually a dead issue, as Republicans in Congress don’t care to have gay marriage litigated in the Capitol.”

Several reliable news outlets have reported that the Republican leadership has thwarted efforts to reaffirm opposition to same-sex marriage in Congress.

No one’s suggesting that the economy shouldn’t be everyone’s main concern. But to ignore social issues when they arise is pure folly.

Think about it: What do North Carolina, Nevada, Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Virginia and Michigan have in common?

They are all toss up states that together will determine who wins the presidency (not to mention the House and Senate) in November. They’re also all states whose voters have passed constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage in recent years, most by wide margins.

We are often told that Americans are changing their minds on same-sex marriage. But when it comes time to vote on the issue, most Americans continue to side with normal marriage. Over 15 years, the voters of 31 states have voted to codify in their constitutions the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Sometimes more than once.

Recent polls show strong majorities in most of these states continue to support normal marriage. In North Carolina, for instance, 61% voted for the marriage amendment.

That’s a state Obama won in 2008, and a state he’s visited four times in recent months.

But the state, hit by 10 percent unemployment, was looking increasingly difficult for him to win even before his announcement. Twenty-one percent of Democratic primary voters choose “no preference” in last week’s Democratic primary.

Then there’s Ohio, where a recent Public Policy Polling survey finds that only 35 percent of residents support same-sex marriage.  Pew finds that a plurality of swing voters in Southern states opposes gay marriage.

Most of the recent developments on same-sex marriage has been great for traditional marriage proponents. Four Iowa judges who ruled to impose same-sex marriage on that state in 2009 were ousted in subsequent elections. Also in 2009, Maine voters reversed a gay marriage law that had been passed by the legislature.

Numerous polls have found that support for same-sex marriage is declining among the Republican rank and file. A recent Pew poll finds support for gay nuptials down to 23 percent among Republicans, from 27 percent last year. And Gallup finds that Republican support has declined from 28 percent in 2011 to 22 percent now.

With Obama’s marriage announcement, the mainstream media – including too many Republican consultants and media personalities – will step up their calls for the party to soften their opposition to same-sex marriage.

But they should look beyond what the political insiders in Washington, D.C. are saying and notice what voters across the country want. If Republican candidates can capture as much of the vote as those 31 marriage amendments, then they will win in a landslide on Election Day.