Romney, Other Top Republicans, Mostly Silent On Same-Sex Marriage

Mitt Romney and other top Republicans are not taking part in the latest round of the culture war debate over same-sex marriage, for good reason.

Politico’s Maggie Habermann and Emily Schultheis note today that the GOP in general, and Mitt Romney in particular, are largely avoiding getting down into the weeds of the debate over same-sex marriage:

When Democrats announced that their 2012 platform would include a historic first — gay marriage written in as a plank — the reaction from mainstream Republicans was near silence.

There were no statements blasted out from Mitt Romney’s campaign. The same was true for the Republican National Committee. Romney has yet to address the fact.

The pushback came largely from social conservatives and evangelicals, who pledged to make same-sex unions an issue going forward and insisted the stand will hurt Democrats.

But the comparative quiet from party leaders would have been unimaginable even four years ago, when public opinion hadn’t yet shifted so rapidly on a signature social issue. And it marks a dramatic change among some of the top Republican donors and opinion-makers, who are supporting same-sex marriage in state-based gay legislative and legal fights, even as the official GOP platform will remain centered on traditional marriage.

“Most Republican Party leaders seem to have lost the stomach for this fight,” said Dan Schnur of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “Some of that results (from) the number of large-scale donors who support same-sex marriage, some of it’s a result in an increasing number of party leaders who support same-sex marriage, and a lot of it is public opinion polling which shows a shift in the way voters feel about same-sex marriage,” he added.

It is, Schnur said, “still an issue that motivates the party base, but it motivates the Democratic base, too.”

More importantly, though, it’s an issue that is no longer the winner that it might have been for the GOP in the past. As I noted in a post last week, opposition to same-sex marriage has been steadily declining since the 1990s and we are now at the point where it is essentially a 50/50 issue with the trends clearly indicating increasing public acceptance of the idea.  Additionally, a recent Pew Research poll shows that Republicans are the only political group among who there is still majority opposition to same-sex marriage and, most importantly, that a majority of independent voters now support the idea:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 28-July 9, 2012, among 2,973 adults, finds that the partisan divide over gay marriage continues to widen. Just 24% of Republicans now favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally, which is only slightly higher than the percentage of Republicans who supported gay marriage in 2008 (19%).

Independent support for gay marriage has grown substantially since 2008. More independents today favor (51%) than oppose (40%) gay marriage; four years ago independents were divided evenly (44% favor, 45% oppose).

While the Republican base continues to oppose same-sex marriage by a wide margin, then, a majority of independents now support it and the Republican Party risks turning off those voters by taking vocal and strident stands on the issue as they did in 2004.  That, I think, is the main reason you’re seeing Romney and other major Republicans stay out of the same-sex marriage debate beyond providing lip service to “traditional marriage” and other such concepts.

The most recent example of this that you can see quite plainly came last week during the entire Chick-Fil-A kerfuffle. While social conservatives like Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum got behind the whole idea of “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” you didn’t see anyone affiliated with the Romney campaign or GOP leadership getting involved in the campaign. Indeed, Bill Kristol wrote a column last week saying Romney should weigh in on the Chick-fil-A controversy:

It should be easy for Romney to stop at a Chick-fil-A for a photo-op (and a sandwich!) on his way there. He could also place a large take-out order from one of the stores for folks at his campaign event. And while he’s at it, he might follow the example of a caller from Wisconsin toLaura Ingraham’s radio show yesterday, and use his credit card to pay ahead of time for the next several members of the military who show up for a meal.

Mitt munching on a Chick-fil-A sandwich … the right thing to do, and politically smart, too. And tasty.

Is it too much to hope for?

Instead, Romney specifically distanced himself from the whole thing:

At a news conference in Las Vegas, Romney wouldn’t weigh in on either the fight over comments by the president of the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A over gay marriage or an effort spearheaded by Michele Bachmann calling for an investigation into Huma Abedin and alleged Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the federal government.

“Those are not things that are part of my campaign,” Romney said.

He also wouldn’t say whether he thinks members of his party talking about those issues are a distraction.

“I’m not going to tell other people what to talk about,” Romney said.

A smart strategy for Romney. Avoid getting caught up in the culture war nonsense, not to mention the chicken sandwich nonsense, and stay focused on the economy. One does wish he’d had the courage of John Boehner and spoken out more forcefully against the Michele Bachmann/Huma Abedin incident, though.

Getting back to the same-sex marriage issue, the authors make it sound like this is something new, though. I don’t recall John McCain saying much about same-sex marriage during his campaign in 2008, and even in 2004 the coordination between the national GOP and the state ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage was largely behind the scenes rather than something that was part of the national campaign. I don’t recall George W. Bush saying much of anything about same-sex marriage in 2004 to be honest. So, the fact that Romney wants to keep the campaign focused on the issues that the campaign believes are good for them is neither surprising nor new, although the decision to not fight the culture wars is one that I welcome.

More broadly, it seems fairly clear to me that as time goes on the GOP is going to have to continue with a strategy like this, at least in national elections. Already, a quarter of self-identified Republicans support same-sex marriage as outlined in the Pew poll I cited above. That number is only going to increase as time goes on, as is the number of Independent voters who support  it. This is going to require the GOP to de-emphasize same-sex marriage as an issue or risk turning off not only the Independent voters it needs to win elections in states like Virginia and Ohio, but also an not insubstantial portion of its own party. Eventually, of course, there will come a time when those opposed to same-sex marriage are a minority even in the Republican Party and, at that point, the GOP will change its position on the issue. Hopefully by then we will have put this issue behind us anyway and started treating people equally, as the Constitution requires.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    Unfortunately Romney has pretended to moderation on gay rights before to get elected. And once elected has betrayed voters who made the mistake of trusting him.

    The LDS church was behind the shameful anti-gay effort here in California, and Mitt Romney will, I strongly suspect, be true to his church and fight against equal rights for all Americans. He has a history on this.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    Romney is so Nixonian – he does not believe in anything except getting elected. He’s gambling that the “Anybody But Obama” sentiment will cause people, particularly Republicans, to not look at him too closely.

  3. Herb says:

    Eventually, of course, there will come a time when those opposed to same-sex marriage are a minority even in the Republican Party and, at that point, the GOP will change its position on the issue. Hopefully by then we will have put this issue behind us anyway and started treating people equally, as the Constitution requires.

    Yeah, that will be nice.

    But no high fives until that actually happens. Romney may not make this an emphasis of his campaign, but is there any reasonable person out there that thinks a President Romney won’t sign off a generally anti-gay agenda if it’s presented to him?

    If the GOP wants credit for softening their stance on gay issues, they’ll get it when it’s due.

  4. mantis says:

    A smart strategy for Romney.

    And a cowardly one.

    Avoid getting caught up in the culture war nonsense…

    The fight for equality is not nonsense.

    I don’t recall George W. Bush saying much of anything about same-sex marriage in 2004 to be honest.

    Yes, well, it happened anyway.

    Bush calls for ban on same-sex marriages
    February 25, 2004

    President Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would restrict marriage to two people of the opposite sex but leave open the possibility that states could allow civil unions.

    “The union of a man and a woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith,” Bush said.

    “Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.”

    The president said he decided to endorse an amendment because of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s recent decision granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s decision two weeks ago to begin giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

  5. DRS says:

    Romney’s a lot of things but he’s not crazy, and he’s got to be well aware of Bill Kristol’s 0-3,459 rate of being correct or strategic about anything. The campaign policy book is not a suicide pact.

  6. Latino_in_Boston says:

    The GOP not making a stronger case against gay marriage says more about public opinion than the Republican Party. That’s particularly true of Romney.

    At the pace public opinion is shifting on this, to address it is a sure loser. Of course, you can’t actually come out in favor of it, because that would alienate your own base, hence you get the let’s not talk about it position.

  7. anjin-san says:

    I believe Romney gave 10K to NOM – can anyone confirm?

    If so, why is he running from his own record?

  8. anjin-san says:

    the culture war nonsense

    Yep, who cares about that “equal protection under the law nonsense”? Silly, silly, silly.

  9. C. Clavin says:

    “…Those are not things that are part of my campaign…”

    As President is he going to fight for, or against, equal rights? How can that not be part of his campaign?
    I can see how a supporter would try to minimize the importance;

    “…Avoid getting caught up in the culture war nonsense…”

    Many, however, do feel that equal rights are important.
    No matter…whatever Romney said would be subject to change retro-actively.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    No plan is the plan, Doug. Ezra Klein had a good piece in todays WaPo about Romney’s reliance on demagoguery. There’s no plan for finances. There’s no plan for China. There’s no plan for the middle east. There’s no plan to release the tax returns. There’s no plan to address anti gay bigotry.The suit is empty.

  11. jd says:

    “Avoid getting caught up in the culture war nonsense”
    Until after the election, of course.

    “We must make it clear that a platform of ‘I hate gay men and women’ is not a way to become president of the United States of America.”
    – Jimmy Carter, 1996

  12. C. Clavin says:


    The whole slavery thing is not part of my campaign.


    The whole Civil Rights thing is not part of my campaign.

    Woe to us…if everyone had the spine of Mittens.
    And you gotta love Doug…

    “…no Mitt…don’t you dare take a principled stand…our ODS will carry the day..the rights of others are unimportant…”

  13. Tsar Nicholas says:

    It’s the stupid, economy.

  14. Basically, Romney knows that the GOP is on the losing side of history and doesn’t want to be remembered in the history books as the Governor Wallace of same-sex marriage. On the other hand, he can’t afford to stand up to his base on the issue, so his only remaining option is to do nothing.

  15. de stijl says:


    I believe Romney gave 10K to NOM – can anyone confirm?

    Indeed he did.

    If so, why is he running from his own record?

    I know! It’s so totally out of character.

  16. PGlenn says:

    For Obama to prove his commitment to equal rights and equality under the law, Obama should take a big, vocal position in favor of transgendered rights.

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ PGlenn

    But, but, but, but… Obama!

    The last refuge of the incompetent.

  18. Gromitt Gunn says:

    In reference to the quoted article, it certainly is interesting that the 5% increase in approval among Republicans (from 19% to 24%) is barely worth mentioning, while the 7% increase in approval among Independents (from 44% to 51%) is a monumental shift.

    It seems to me like a 5% rate of change amoung Republicans could easily accelerate over the next 4 to 8 years. Especially as more Republicans see the desire for equality among their own immediate and extended families.

  19. PGlenn says:

    @anjin-san: Here’s a tip: when you accuse others of being incompetent, do not make errors in elementary logic while doing so.

    The tu quoque logical fallacy goes: A makes criticism P. A is also guilty of P. Therefore, P is dismissed.

    The (implicit) logic of my point: You’re criticizing A for not volunteering a position on P. Okay, but B is not volunteering a position on directly related (issue) R. There are many, many issues on which neither A nor B have volunteered positions. Why should we expect A and/or B to take a position on P, but not on R? There might be a good answer to this, but until I see it, I’m not impressed by the demands for A to volunteer a position on P.

    Do you not believe that transgendered peopl also have rights?

  20. Delmar says:

    The best course is to let this issue to continue to be decided at the state or local level. This is working out in states where the citizens are allowed to study, decide, and vote on amendments to the state constitutions.

  21. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Setting aside the fact that you are desperately in need of new material, no, it’s obviously not just the economy. If it were Mr. Romney would have a lead. Instead he’s behind. So as much as you love your cliches, it’s obviously some other things as well. Like social issues. Like personality. Like foreign policy.

  22. anjin-san says:

    And the gold in the boring diatribe event goes to……….. PGlenn!

    But, but, but, but… Obama!!!!!!

  23. David M says:

    I think it’ll be a while before any major GOP figures move from “no comment” to actively supporting gay marriage. Their constituents won’t stand for it, and GOP officials are terrified of their base. “No comment” will serve those spineless toads for a long, long time.

  24. george says:

    Actually I suspect he’d continue to do the same if he was elected. Sort of like Bush Jr and abortion – personal feelings about things tend to run a very poor second to electability in politics. And even in the second term you have your party’s Congress aspirations to contend with.

    Which is often a good thing, and arguably is the point of democracy – leader’s personal feelings should be second to the feelings of the majority. And in this case, its pretty clear what the trend is in terms of legality of same sex marriage.

  25. Scott O says:

    @Delmar: So in the 60’s the federal government should have stayed out of the civil rights movement and just let the voters in the southern states decide for themselves whether blacks should be allowed to eat at the lunch counter in Woolworths?

  26. superdestroyer says:

    Romney does not understand that the only way to make homosexuals happy is to support big government, high taxes, government run social engineering, and a decrease in freedom.

    Givng an inch to homosexuals does nothing but to encourage militant homosexuals. Why would anyone who owns a business, has a retirement account, has children, and wants to maintain their standard of living want to make homosexuals the arbiters of what businesses can and cannot exist in the U.S.?

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @superdestroyer: Are you nuts?

  28. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @grumpy realist: That really is incoherent, even for him. At least with his race-based crap, I can follow the internal logic, even if it isn’t based in reality.

  29. Eric Florack says:

    @michael reynolds:

    This from one who supports Obama, who punts every time the subject comes up. Example.

    @David M: Tell me something; If they’re so terrified of the base, why is Romney the nominee?

    I’m short of time and bandwidth tonight. I’ll offer some notes on the larger issue.