Slowly, Surely, Republicans Bail on the Gay Marriage Wars

Same-sex marriage advocates protest after same-sex couples were denied marriage licenses from the San Francisco county clerk on February 14, 2013 in San Francisco, California.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The great Chris Geidner wraps a theme of CPAC hits on a fact that was universally tweeted (and twitpic’d) at the time. Young conservatives packed a rebellious libertarian panel on the GOP “rainbow,” which let the banned and press-savvy GOProud into the conference. But only a few dozen people bothered to attend an all-star panel with National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown and ACU board member Cleta Mitchell—i.e., the woman who got GOProud barred. Anyone glancing at the turnouts would think the debate was won.

“We are treated as if we are bigots,” Brown complained to a largely empty room, assembled for a panel dedicated to discussing the bullying they and other conservatives say they face from the Obama administration.

An hour later, speaking to a packed room at another CPAC panel about increasing tolerance in the party, GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia basically agreed.

“We have tolerated something in our movement for far too long: anti-gay bigotry,” LaSalvia said.

This was on Thursday. On Friday, I ran into Brown—who is always accessible to the press, even as he’s being lambasted—outside of a happy hour put on by Rick Santorum’s Patriot Voices PAC. I sheepishly suggested that Brown must have answered the same question 100 times that day. So, uh, what about Rob Portman’s gay marriage “evolution?”

Brown didn’t mind giving another answer. “Portman’s going to have a primary in 2016,” he said. He had never been active on the marriage issue, staying on the sidelines when Ohio voters passed a traditional marriage amendment in 2004. That was okay. NOM still knew how to win those amendment fights. They were merely outspent in 2012, when they lost in four states. “If there’d been one state campaign, not four, we would have won,” he said.

Hard to say, but there wasn’t a ton of evidence at CPAC. The annual straw poll asked a series of questions about non-electoral topics. It hardly asked anything about social issues. Only 15 percent of attendees agreed with the sentence “My most important goal is to promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protecting the life of the unborn.” That was the only “social issues” question. A popular theory around the conference was “gay marriage” didn’t make it into the poll because the libertarian-skewing attendee pool… would have voted in favor of gay marriage.