GOP candidates vary on gay rights, same-sex marriage policies
Poll numbers show Americans are becoming more progressive on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, but most of the 2012 Iowa caucus candidates oppose expanding gay rights.
Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found just over half of Americans are in favor of same-sex marriage. Still, only two Republican presidential-nomination candidates — California gay-rights activist Fred Karger and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson — have announced full support for gay rights, including gay marriage.
"Government's role when it comes to marriage is one of granting benefits and rights to couples who choose to enter into a marriage 'contract,' " Johnson said during an online town-hall meeting earlier this month that was co-hosted by GOProud, a gay conservative organization. "As I have examined this issue, consulted with folks on all sides, and viewed it through the lens of individual freedom and equal rights, it has become clear to me that denying those rights and benefits to gay couples is discrimination plain and simple."
But Gary Cass, the CEO of DefendChristians.org, said LGBT items in the political debate aren't issues of rights.
"You can't make right what is wrong because homosexuality is against the laws of nature and the laws of God," he said. "And therefore, because homosexuality violates both of them, how can you therefore give rights to behavior?"
Cass said the change in public opinion is because of decades of homosexual propaganda inundating society and that polls aren't always indicative of electoral support.
"What people tell pollsters and how people actually vote on the issue of same-sex marriage are not always the same thing," he said. "We know that the poll numbers and the actual voting percentages never match and people always answer the polls in a more liberal fashion than they actually vote."
Some political experts say Republicans face a tough challenge on gay issues: In order to be successful in caucuses and primaries, candidates need to take anti-gay rights positions, but those stances aren't always popular among general-election voters.
Clyde Wilcox, a government professor at Georgetown University, said candidates who take harsh anti-gay stances may jeopardize their campaigns by coming off as very intolerant and out-of-touch to independents and moderates.
"It's one thing to win a [caucus] vote in Iowa and another to win an election," he said. "They have to be careful because [now] you are trying to win the right, but in the general election, the public has really shifted. It's just a risky dance for Republican candidates."
Outside marriage rights, other hot topics regarding gay rights include non-discriminatory and regulatory laws, openly LGBT military-service members, and gay adoption.
Gregory Lewis, a professor of public management and policy at Georgia State University, said the country is split. Support for gay rights has been growing for decades, but even voters who support gay rights may not prioritize that in a presidential election.
"In general, people think it's right to protect gay rights and that gay people should have equality under the law but I don't think that is anywhere near as important as the state of economy," he said.
And Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, says gay issues will become less important, especially among younger voters.
"I talk about generational difference," he said. "College Republicans are the future of the party. I found it very interesting as an indicator of the party."
Even so, Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, is happy most Republican contenders oppose "the homosexual political agenda."
"We believe that society gives benefits to marriage because marriage gives benefit to society," he said. "I just don't feel that they can meet that burden of proof."
But for people such as Iowa City native Bridget Malone, recognition of gay marriage has a direct personal impact.
Malone is one of the hundreds of Iowans who entered into same-sex marriages when the state Supreme Court legalized the unions two years ago. A Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, as many Republicans have called for, would not allow other gays and lesbians to marry.
For Malone, marrying her partner of 22 years feels safer, but they are still losing out on federal benefits.
"We are still discriminated against on a national level," said Malone, vice president of gay-rights group Connections. "[But] I'm so tickled that Iowa has [made the changes], and I think it will come in the future. So we are still plugging away, and personally, I am optimistic."
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