The gay marriage debate has crept into Republican politics this year as the candidates for president dwell on social issues to win over conservative voters. Rick Santorum has spoken out against it fervently. Mitt Romney, who was the governor of Massachusetts, a bastion of gay rights, told an annual gathering of conservatives in Washington this month that he stopped his state "from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage."
Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, said Friday that while he opposes gay marriage, "at least they're doing it the right way, which is going through voters, giving them a chance to vote and not having a handful of judges arbitrarily impose their will."
The conservative hero Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey who is considered a possible running mate for Romney, drew the national spotlight this month as he vetoed a gay marriage bill, pleasing Republicans on the right wing of their party but potentially alienating independents.
Despite the setback, gay activists have already enjoyed a string of victories this year. A court ruled that California's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional. Washington state passed gay marriage. A judge struck down a critical part of the Defense of Marriage Act.
Stuart Gaffney, the media director of the advocacy group Marriage Equality USA, said that things are changing. In 2004, he said, some blamed the gay marriage movement for hurting John Kerry in the presidential election because it drew conservatives to the polls. But now, said Gaffney, "people are not dodging this issue — in fact, they're embracing it."
"Cleary the writing is on the wall," Gaffney said, "and people are making a decision every day: 'Do I want to be seen as standing on the right side of history or the wrong side of history?'"