While many Republicans consider the sudden emergence of gay marriage as an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign an unhelpful distraction, social conservatives Sunday insisted the Obama administration has given presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney an opportunity.
“I think the president this past week took six or seven states he carried in 2008 and put them in play with this one ill-conceived position that he’s taken,” American Values President Gary Bauer said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I think that Barack Obama has helped fit that missing piece of intensity that Mitt Romney is going to need,” Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Christian organization Family Research Council, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Gay marriage is suddenly the country’s hottest political talking point after Mr. Obama last week said he now personally supports same-sex marriages — though he said the legality of such unions should be decided by individual states.
Mr. Romney, who once argued in Massachusetts that he would be a better advocate for gay rights than Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, quickly drew a sharp contrast with the president on the issue, insisting that marriage is “one man, one woman.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, echoing earlier comments from fellow Republican John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, said on CNN the gay-marriage issue is “an attempt to distract the country from [Mr. Obama’s] record.”
“He’s trying to raise divisive issues up to solidify his base and to divide the country, and that isn’t what we should be focusing on now. We should be focusing on jobs and the economy,” the Texas Republican said.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that voters who consider gay marriage a key issue now “have a clear choice” in November.
Mr. Romney reiterated his position over the weekend with a commencement address to graduating seniors at Liberty University, the conservative Christian university in Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. in 1971.
“Culture — what you believe, what you value, how you live — matters,” Mr. Romney told graduates gathered in the football stadium on Liberty’s campus.
The former Massachusetts governor, a Mormon who has struggled to connect with evangelical Christians, drew sustained applause when he said unequivocally: “Marriage is a relationship between one man and one woman.”
The school has become a bellwether for spiritual thinking in fundamentalist and evangelical Christian circles and a powerhouse in state and national politics.
Jerry Falwell Jr., the school’s chancellor, has carried on his father’s push to get evangelicals involved in politics by aggressively pushing to register the school’s more than 12,000 students to vote. In previous elections, the school has even canceled classes and lined up buses to shuttle students back to and from polling places.
This year, for the first time ever, students had the chance in the Republican primary election to cast their vote at a polling place on campus. And more votes were cast there than at any other polling precinct in the state, according to the Virginia State Board of Elections.
That kind of on-the-ground energy is symbolic of the enthusiasm and energy that Christian conservatives can inject into a campaign, making it a key constituency for Mr. Romney.