SANDOWN, N.H. — Dan Innis, one of three candidates vying to become the first gay Republican newly elected to the U.S. House, says it is only a matter of time before the GOP as a whole embraces same-sex marriage.
Despite the party’s platform opposing gay marriage, the two other candidates — Richard Tisei in Massachusetts’ 6th Congressional District and Carl DeMaio in California’s 52nd Congressional District — agreed with Mr. Innis, saying GOP leaders are out of step on issues of individual freedom ranging from gay rights to abortion, surrendering young voters who might otherwise vote Republican.
“I think as people like me run and get out into the communities and make a positive difference — and as we win, and people in the party get to know us — that will go away,” Mr. Innis, a former business school dean, said after a recent meet-and-greet here in New Hampshire, where the state legislature passed a gay marriage law in 2009. “Five years from now, we will no longer be having this conversation.”
Mr. Innis is running for a seat in New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.
There are some signs that the GOP is inching in that direction, or is at least willing to overlook candidates who disagree.
There have been several gay Republican members of Congress, but all came out or were outed while holding office. No openly gay person has ever won a first term in Congress as a Republican.
“Our decisions on the Republican nominees we support will not be based on race, gender or sexual orientation but will be based on the strength of their candidacy and their ability to defeat Democrats,” said Andrea Bozek, spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Nevada GOP, meanwhile, stripped the pro-life and traditional-marriage planks out of its state party platform. And in June, Sen. Susan M. Collins of Maine became the fourth sitting Republican senator to come out in favor of same-sex marriage.
But the issue is by no means settled. The Texas GOP earlier this year backed gay-conversion therapy as part of its party platform.
And the national GOP platform, adopted in 2012, endorsed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which barred federal benefits to same-sex couples, and backed ratification of a traditional marriage amendment to the Constitution. It also called state court decisions that paved the way for same-sex marriage “an assault on the foundations of our society, challenging the institution, which for thousands of years in virtually every civilization, has been entrusted with the rearing of children and the transmission of cultural values.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the party should not back candidates that go against key planks of the platform.
“It is not really about their sexual orientation,” Mr. Perkins said. “It is their policy orientation. Do they support the party’s stated core positions? The party’s platform is very clear on issues such as life and marriage, as well as tax policy.”
For their part Mr. Innis, Mr. Tisei and Mr. DeMaio said their campaigns are more focused on getting the nation’s economic house in order and getting people back to work than it is about changing the party’s stance on gay marriage.
All three men are also pro-choice on abortion, and Mr. Tisei also has vowed to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act — putting him at odds with House Speaker John A. Boehner, the man he says he will support for the top leadership post.
Mr. Innis, who, like Mr. Tisei, is legally married to a man, predicted that by the 2020 presidential election, the national party platform would be more welcoming to same-sex marriage. Mr. Tisei said it would be wise for that to happen. And Mr. DeMaio said, “I could care less about the party platform.”
“I think our base actually has moved, and it is the party leaders and elected officials who are afraid of their shadow who haven’t caught up to that,” Mr. DeMaio said, adding that Democrats and gay-rights groups that have benefited from the battle are scared of the idea of Republicans moving on social issues.
“They are looking at it saying, ‘How do we continue this cash cow?’ and Democrats are trying to figure out how they [can] continue to use this as a wedge issue to drive out their base,” he said. “Democrats are terrified about this happening.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll released in June showed that 56 percent of Americans support allowing persons to marry someone of the same sex, compared to 38 percent who are opposed.
The support differed along partisan lines, with 67 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of political independents and 37 percent of Republicans supporting it. The issue also divides generations, with 77 percent of adults under age 30 supporting it, compared to just 38 percent of seniors.
Legally, the issue also is trending toward gay marriage.
Since the 2012 presidential election, the Supreme Court has struck down DOMA as unconstitutional and cleared the way for California to resume offering marriage licenses to gay couples. According to Lambda Legal, there have been 25 rulings in favor of same-sex marriage. Gay marriages now are performed in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
The court rulings have outraged some social conservatives, who say federal judges have substituted their own ideology for the right of the people to define marriage “as it has always been defined.”
But Mr. Tisei said the issue is similar to that of interracial marriage and predicted an eventual landmark Supreme Court ruling such as the Loving v. Virginia decision that invalidated laws barring interracial marriage.
“The principle is simple: Should everyone be treated equally and fairly under the law?” Mr. Tisei said.
Mr. DeMaio said it’s not about imposing a viewpoint but about protecting equality.
“If you don’t support gay marriage, don’t get gay married,” he said, but added, “If someone in government tries to get you to recognize or perform a gay wedding, I will be at the front of the pack to defend your right.”