- (Photo: REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach)
No one disputes that both Republicans and Democrats are looking for an issue – any issue – that will give them a winning advantage with about 3 million swing voters in the fall elections. But the one topic that many social conservatives see as that wedge issue is the same elephant in the room that party leaders want to ignore: same-sex marriage.
While Democrats have been somewhat supportive of same-sex marriage in the past decade, both the Democratic and Republican Parties have kept the issue out of their party's platform – until now.
Last week, a committee unanimously recommended that same-sex marriage be included in this year's Democratic platform. The measure is expected to pass with little or no opposition when the full committee meets in Charlotte next month.
If the Democrats are going to include a hot-button issue as a part of a core document that defines who they are and what they believe, then why would Republicans not capitalize on the issue?
Jimmy LaSalvia is the executive director and co-founder of GOProud, a Republican group of straight and gay conservatives who advocate for conservative principles but support same-sex marriage. He feels the main reason party officials are not touting the same-sex marriage issue is that most Americans are more concerned about the economy.
"I think the issues facing our nation are much bigger than same-sex marriage," LaSalvia told The Christian Post. "That's one reason the opposition to same-sex marriage is softening. The other is generational. Those under 40 are more accepting of a gay lifestyle than those who are older."
But LaSalvia was also quick to point out other reasons that Democrats are more prone to support gay marriage.
"Democrats talk more about same-sex marriage because they rely on issues that will motivate coalitions within their party," he explained. "For example, gay Democrats make deals with the unions who in turn make deals with the NAACP. It's all about keeping their coalitions working instead of an overwhelming desire to promote gay marriage."
One senior party official who asked not to be identified said it comes down to money.
"The party doesn't want to offend their big donors," the anonymous official said.
"Some major contributor in Texas has a close relative who is gay. So instead of risking the loss of some big bucks, the party leaders are trying to walk a tight-rope by saying the GOP firmly supports traditional marriage, but not that your son or daughter is wrong because of their lifestyle. The issue just hits too close to home for some people to deal with."
Several polls show that Americans are softening in their opposition to gay marriage. Although a recent Pew poll found that 70 percent of Republicans are still opposed to gay marriage, 51 percent of independents favor it. And attracting the independent vote is job one for the RNC and Mitt Romney.
A spokesperson for the Romney campaign would only say he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman. But so far, the campaign has been silent on the Democratic Party's plan to adopt the issue in their platform.
Nonetheless, it's not just Democrats who are touting same-sex marriage in 2012.
Some notable examples are former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Bush staffer and RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman.
Cheney, whose daughter Liz is gay, reportedly made phone calls to Republican legislators in Maryland when the issue was before the body earlier this year. It passed by a narrow margin but opponents secured enough signatures to place the matter before the voters this fall.
Mehlman, a close confidant of President Bush in his first term, left the White House in 2005 to serve as chairman of the RNC until 2007. However, Mehlman came out and publicly stated he was homosexual in August 2010 and later apologized for his actions as chairman, especially when using the issue of same-sex marriage to defeat Democratic opponents. He also expressed regret for not standing up when the administration promoted a federal marriage amendment.
"I can't change the fact that I wasn't in this place personally when I was in politics, and I genuinely regret that," Mehlman said in an interview with Salon. "It was very hard personally."
Mehlman played a key role in New York's passage of same-sex marriage by traveling to Albany to speak and lobby legislators.
In an unexpected turn of events in May of this year, President Obama, who in 2008 agreed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, announced in an interview that he now supported the right of same-sex couples to marry.
"Vice President [Joe] Biden pushed Obama over the edge, but others thought he had been wrestling with the announcement for some time," the anonymous party official told CP. "But everyone – and I mean everyone – knew Obama supported same-sex marriage and was going to support it if he won reelection. Now it's just one less issue he has to waffle on."
The Coalition of African-American Pastors has called on President Obama to reverse his stance on same-sex marriage and has also demanded blacks withhold their support for the president until he agrees to personally meet with them.
So far, the White House has not responded to multiple meeting requests made by the group.
Gay marriage advocates are hoping their string of losses will come to an end this year.
Voters in 32 states have voted to either define marriage as between a man and a woman or they have prohibited same-sex marriage. North Carolina is the latest state to ban gay marriage and they happen to be hosting this year's Democratic convention.
This year, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota will all put the issue in from of their voters in November and those who monitor the topic closely say that same-sex marriage has its best chance of passing in at least one of these three states.