American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Ken Mehlman: Making the Marriage Equality Case

AFER Boardmember and former RNC chair Ken Mehlman pens an Op/Ed in the Wall Street Journal making the conservative case for marriage equality.

“They say demography is destiny, and in American politics destiny has belonged to those who best aligned their core beliefs with the rapidly changing and ever-improving citizenry.

“Conservatives—and I count myself as one—succeed when we attract new supporters to timeless traditions. The Republican Party’s loss in this month’s presidential election resulted partly from a failure to embrace some of America’s fastest-growing constituencies. One area of significant change is in attitudes toward legal equality for gay Americans.

“Some misperceive the issue of marriage equality as exclusively progressive. Yet what could be more conservative than support for more freedom and less government? And what freedom is more basic than the right to marry the person you love? Smaller, less intrusive government surely includes an individual deciding whom to marry. Allowing civil marriage for same-sex couples will cultivate community stability, encourage fidelity and commitment, and foster family values.

“Conservatives don’t need to change core convictions to embrace the growing support for equal rights for gay Americans. It is sufficient to recognize the inherent conservatism in citizens’ desire to marry, to be judged on their work, and not to be singled out for higher taxes or bullying at school. These objectives can be achieved while also protecting religious liberty, as demonstrated by states enacting civil marriage with exemptions for religious institutions.”

In the piece, he also outlines research uncovered by a group he helped establish, Project Right side, which commissioned leading GOP polling firm Target Point to survey 16,000 voters over the past year, over-sampling Republican and swing voters in battleground states, including 2,000 such voters on Election Night.

According to the findings:

  • A majority of Americans favor civil marriage for same-sex couples. .. Walter Olson of the Cato Institute analyzed the Maryland data and found majority support for marriage equality in strong GOP precincts that voted for Mitt Romney. Our Election Night exit poll of 2,000 voters in battleground states (of whom 32% were Republican, 36% Democratic and 32% independent) showed a majority opposing the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996: 62% believe that if states recognize same-sex marriage, the federal government should grant same-sex couples the same benefits as heterosexual couples.
  • The marriage-equality issue is more important to supporters than to opponents. While this election focused on the economy, President Obama’s support for marriage equality was a positive motivator for nearly three out of four Obama voters in battleground states, according to exit polls. Almost half of his voters (45%) said it made them “much more” likely to support him. Only 35% of Romney supporters said that the former governor’s opposition made them “much more” likely to support him.
  • A majority of independents favor marriage equality. Project Right Side’s survey found that 58% of independents in target states support allowing gay couples to marry, with 22% calling it a very high or somewhat high priority. Eighty percent of independents agree that “the government should stay out of the private lives of adults, including gays and lesbians.”
  • Republicans are increasingly supportive of legal protections for gay Americans. Of the 7,000 Republicans we surveyed, 73% support employment nondiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians, 61% support safe-schools protections (such as those signed into law by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie) and 46% support allowing same-sex couples to jointly file tax returns.
It’s time, Melhman argues, for Republicans to accept marriage equality, not only because of shifting trends, but also because the values of marriage are pillars of conservatism. Check out the entire Op/Ed at (subscription required).