Gay Marriage Spreads Without Backlash

Utah's Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. recently came out in favor of civil unions for gay couples, even as he leads one of the nation's most Republican states.

Last week, Steve Schmidt, who ran Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign last year, sparked a fresh debate inside the Republican Party by publicly calling on the GOP to drop its opposition to gay marriage.

"There is a sound conservative argument to be made for same-sex marriage," Schmidt told the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group. "I'm confident American public opinion will continue to move on the question toward majority support, and sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up to it."

Schmidt's comments are unlikely to prompt a wholesale reexamination of the party's positions on gay rights. Many other party strategists say that Schmidt's prescription would cause short-term electoral disaster for Republicans, since the party's support is rooted in religious and other social conservatives.

GOP Trying to Appeal to Moderate Voters

"That's a sure way to make sure that social conservatives stay home," GOP pollster and strategist Whit Ayres said of Schmidt's suggestion that the party support gay marriage.

Polling suggests that an overwhelming majority of voters continue to oppose same-sex marriage.

A March CBS News poll found just 33 percent saying they support legalizing gay marriage, with another 27 percent saying they favor civil unions, essentially a marriage equivalent in all but name. That same poll found that only 6 percent of Republicans favor gay marriage.

But, as Schmidt referenced in his speech, there's a big split among age groups. Among younger voters of all political persuasions -- ages 18-45 -- 41 percent said they support gay marriage. Among voters 65 or older, that number drops to just 18 percent.

Even many socially conservative voters realize that the party needs to emphasize different aspects of its platform to appeal to moderate voters, Ayres said. That leaves the Republican Party rebuilding itself along economic lines.

"The distinctions drawn there are likely to be more beneficial to the party," Ayres said.

"It changes the emphasis," he said. "With people so concerned about losing their jobs, their healthcare, their retirement savings, it's hard to break through if you're not talking about that right now."

Timing dictates so much in politics -- and this is no exception, Fabrizio said.

"If this had happened a year ago, it would have turned the presidential campaign on its head," he said.

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