Abortion, Gay Rights Divide GOP Candidates

The once-vaunted Republican unity on major social issues is a thing of distant memory in the 2008 presidential campaign, with major players in the GOP field divided against one another on the hot-button issues of abortion and gay rights.

The party's national front-runner, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, supports abortion rights and a range of domestic-partnership benefits for gay couples -- positions that put him at odds with conservative doctrine.

Another top candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was also "pro-choice" on abortion for most of his life, until switching his position less than three years ago.

While several second-tier candidates have down-the-line conservative records on social issues, general dissatisfaction with major candidates' records on abortion and gay rights leaves many in the party pining for other candidates to enter the race.

Giuliani Challenges Party Orthodoxy

No candidate is challenging party orthodoxy on social issues more than Giuliani.

After struggling to articulate his views on abortion early in the campaign, Giuliani has affirmed his support for abortion rights, calling the debate on the controversial issue "deeply personal."

He addresses the concerns of social conservatives, however, by saying he would appoint "strict constructionist" judges to federal courts -- judges who would presumably be open to reversing Roe v. Wade.

Giuliani opposes gay marriage and supports domestic-partnership benefits in which gay and lesbian couples are treated as if they were married for purposes of health care, hospital visitation rights and inheritance matters.

As mayor of liberal New York City, Giuliani voiced supported for civil unions, but he now says he opposes civil unions if they would simply be gay marriage by another name.

Romney Wavers on Abortion, Gay Marriage

Romney ran for senator in 1994 and governor in 2002 as a supporter of abortion rights; he said in 1994 that "you will not see me wavering on that."

But he said he changed his mind in late 2004, in the midst of a stem cell debate in Massachusetts, and now says he considers himself strongly "pro-life."

Romney has also voiced support for domestic-partnership benefits in the past. But he emerged as a prominent foe of gay marriage after his home state became the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.

McCain Record Reflects White House

Sen. John McCain of Arizona has perhaps the most conservative record on social issues among the top tier of Republican candidates.

He has strongly opposed abortion rights and gay marriage, though he has opposed attempts to ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment -- a step President Bush and many other conservatives have endorsed.

The Second-Tier Clamors

Among second-tier candidates, several have made aggressive efforts to reach out to social conservatives, arguing that the front-running candidates leave much to be desired in those areas.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has called Giuliani's position on abortion "illogical" and "bizarre," and has said the GOP needs to nominate a "pro-life, pro-marriage" candidate to be successful next year.

Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, another strong social conservative, is running advertisements attacking Romney's previous position on abortion. He's also attacking Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado on the same issue, even though Tancredo has opposed abortion throughout his political career.

Possible Supreme Court Appointments Post-2008

Controversial issues involving both abortion and gay rights are certain to confront the next president.

The main battleground for abortion rights has been the Supreme Court, where most observers believe the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion is supported by a bare 5-4 majority; four of the nine justices are older than 70, meaning several vacancies are possible during the next presidential term.

On gay rights, the next president will have to cope with everything from the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy to whether to push a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

All the Republican candidates say they support maintaining "don't ask, don't tell," which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed services.