The Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage this week exposed growing fissures among Republicans, with some social conservatives issuing a call to arms in defense of traditional marriage and others warning it is time for the party to soften its rhetoric on the politically charged issue.
The rulings were generally viewed as a triumph for backers of gay marriage, but the court stopped short of declaring gay marriage a constitutional right, which leaves the door open to further battles in the states — and within the GOP, where gay marriage has proved to be divisive.
"If we want to win general elections, we cannot be intolerant of people with different views — we can hold to our conservative principles, and should, but we must welcome others who don't agree with the party platform 100 percent," said Henry Barbour, a GOP strategist. "This is about winning elections."
But social conservative hammered the decisions and said the court has added fuel to an already long-simmering battle.
Ken Blackwell, senior fellow with the Family Research Council, said the GOP should respond "forcefully and quickly.
"This isn't about the future of the Republican Party. It's about the future of America. And the citizens of 38 states understand that. If the GOP wants to be the party of American exceptionalism, it should stand firm for natural marriage," Mr. Blackwell said.
But Ross Hemminger, spokesman for GOProud, a conservative gay-rights group, applauded the court's decision and said it should be the precursor to shelving the "divisive" issue of marriage.
"After the losses of 2012, we need to get to issues that matter to everyday Americans," Mr. Hemminger said. "It is really important in reaching out to younger voters because younger voters hear things like 'traditional marriage' and they get turned off."
Congressional GOP leaders have been restrained in their responses.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said Thursday that he is "disappointed" by the rulings, but said that he has "no plans at this point in terms of how the House would move ahead on this."
Some of the party's rising stars and potential 2016 presidential candidates — including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky — have said the marriage question should be left to the states to decide, and not the federal government.
GOP Sens. Rob Portman, of Ohio, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, meanwhile, have endorsed same-sex marriage.
In a pair of 5-4 rulings, the court on Wednesday struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, and cleared the way for same-sex marriages in California.
The rulings did not affect the 35 states that prohibit same-sex marriage, or the 12 other states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex marriage. Three other states — Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island — passed laws allowing same-sex marriage that take effect this summer.
The decisions came roughly four months after the Republican National Committee released a post-election autopsy — called the Growth and Opportunity Project — that urged Republicans to broaden their support by becoming more inclusive.
"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 report said.
The paper angered social conservatives who accused the GOP of trying to move from the party's opposition to same-sex marriage. They demanded that Republicans affirm the party's 2012 platform, which called for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
In April, Republicans responded at the party's spring meeting, passing a resolution that restated their opposition to same-sex marriage and implored the Supreme Court to "uphold the sanctity of marriage" in the two gay marriage cases.
A Pew Research Center released this month showed that 51 percent of Americans favored — and 42 percent opposed — allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally
"People younger than 30 support gay marriage by about 2-to-1, while those age 50 and older are divided," the poll found. "There is far more support for gay marriage among college graduates than among those who never attended college. And there continues to be a substantial difference of opinion regionally, with more support in the Northeast than in other regions."
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