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GOP still struggling on gay marriage messaging

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II used to be on record supporting a federal constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, but now that he is running for governor, he refuses to take a stand.

"You want to drag me out of Virginia," Mr. Cuccinelli recently told editors and reporters of The Washington Times when asked to weigh in on the thorny issue.

Indeed, Republicans across the country are trying to confine the marriage issue to the states, as the tide appears to be going against the Republican Party and its leading voices try to calculate how to best limit the damage, policywise and politically.

Last month's Supreme Court rulings, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California, left Democrats celebrating, but Republicans struggled to figure out how to respond.

While some conservatives panned the ruling, most Republican leaders tried to keep their heads down — and all sides are still trying to grapple with whether to aggressively push a federal marriage amendment.

"The GOP is in no position at the moment to be turning away voters," said former Virginia Republican Party Chairman Jeff Frederick, who himself is a supporter of the constitutional amendment but who said the electoral calculations are more complex. "Elections are a game of addition, not subtraction, and we can't afford to subtract anyone else. And like it or not, there are a lot of gay Republicans out there" whose support the party needs.

Polls show more Americans support same-sex marriage and approve of the recent Supreme Court rulings. But advocates of traditional marriage say Republicans should keep fighting for an amendment or risk cutting "off their nose to spite their face."

"I don't think the same-sex marriage issue is an issue where you are going to broaden your appeal by weakening your base," said Richard Land, head of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C. "I think the people who are against same-sex marriage are far more committed to their position and are far more likely to change the way they are to vote than those who are pro-same-sex marriage."

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican, has led the charge in the House by introducing a resolution that calls for a constitutional amendment for traditional marriage that has 28 co-sponsors, all Republican. The support pales in comparison with that of 2006, when nearly 100 lawmakers, including some Democrats, threw their support behind the proposed Marriage Protection Amendment rolled out by Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, Colorado Republican.

Mr. Land blamed the shrinking support for the proposal on "finger-in-the-wind politicians."

"As you know, conviction politicians are a minority. Some would say they are an endangered species," he said.

Mr. Land said fence-sitters like Mr. Cuccinelli should just be upfront with an American public that is craves for more honesty from politicians.

"He is trying to avoid taking a position on a very controversial issue," Mr. Land said. "My advice would be to him, 'Be who you are. Everybody knows you are against same-sex marriage. Everybody knows if you had the votes to do it you would be for a federal marriage amendment.'"

Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have broken with party orthodoxy in recent months by endorsing same-sex marriage.

And some of the party's rising stars — including Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida — also have said the marriage issue should be decided by each state.

The stance puts them at odds with the National Organization for Marriage, which says that Republicans should be fighting to defend traditional marriage on both the state and national level.

It also puts them out of step with the party's 2012 platform, which called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. The 2012 Republican presidential field — with the exception of Ron Paul, Sen. Paul's father, and Jon Huntsman — supported a federal marriage amendment.

After the election, the party released a report that said Republicans must to do a better job of showing gay Americans that they care about them, too.

"Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and the rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be," the RNC report said.

The report angered social conservatives, who got the national party to reaffirm its commitment to a constitutional amendment at a meeting this spring.

Mr. Cuccinelli, though, took a pass on weighing in on the issue, despite being one of four Virginia lawmakers in 2004 to sign a resolution that said "the only sure way to protect marriage is by a federal constitutional amendment." Instead, he said, he is focused on defending the same-sex marriage amendment that Virginia voters approved in 2006.

"I'm running for governor, and I think Virginia's decision should be respected within the court system," Mr. Cuccinelli said.

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