Former McCain Adviser Warns Against Turning GOP into 'Religious Party'

The former presidential campaign manager for Sen. John McCain says the Republican Party could become a "religious party" if it puts public policy issues to a religious test.

"[A]nd in a free country, a political party cannot remain viable in the long term if it is seen as sectarian," added Steve Schmidt during a convention Friday for Log Cabin Republicans – a national gay and lesbian Republican grassroots organization.

Schmidt, whose sister is lesbian, also encouraged the GOP to re-identify what the party's core values really are and suggested that its opposition to same-same sex marriage will put the party at odds with more and more Americans.

"I believe Republicans should re-examine the extent to which we are being defined by positions on issues that I don't believe are among our core values, and that put us at odds with what I expect will become over time, if not a consensus view, then the view of a substantial majority of voters," the former top adviser for McCain said.

Schmidt's comments were made shortly after a number of pro-gay victories popped up across the nation over the course of two weeks.

On April 3, Iowa's state Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and that the state has not right to limit marriage to heterosexual couples. Four days later, Vermont's state legislature was able to override a veto from the governor in order to become the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by legislative, rather than by judicial means. On that same day, the District of Columbia's governing council voted to recognize same-sex marriages that have been sanctioned by other state governments.

And just this past Thursday, in New York, the governor introduced a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

"Steve Schmidt's first national TV address this week is part of a coordinated campaign to manufacture a message point: Americans are ready to give up on the marriage issue," commented Brian Brown, executive director of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), in a statement Friday.

But as influential conservative leader James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, asserted this past week, there is "not going to be a surrender," conservatives say.

 "The left wing media is itching for members of the pro-family movement to put up a white flag and declare the culture war over and to just hand the country to them," Dobson told Fox's Sean Hannity this past Tuesday.

"But the war's not over," he said. "Pendulums swing and we'll come back. We're going to hang in there."

And though there are individuals such as Schmidt who believe more Americans will come to accept gay relationships as they get to know gay individuals, NOM president Maggie Gallagher says true conservatives will remain committed to the traditional definition of marriage – a definition that spans different cultures and religions and is not limited to one, as Schmidt suggested.

"There is no conservative case for gay marriage," she asserted.

"Gay marriage represents the overthrow of the core idea of marriage in our tradition and every faith tradition. And it will put government on the side of excluding traditional faith communities from the public square," she added.

According to a Values and Beliefs poll by the Gallup organization last year, Americans are evenly divided over the morality of homosexual relations, with 48 percent considering them morally acceptable and 48 percent saying they are morally wrong.

While similar to the results of the year before, attitudes last year were more affirming of gays than what Gallup found at the start of the decade when the majority said such relations were morally wrong.

Notably, however, support for the legality of homosexual relations has fluctuated over the years.

In 1977, support was at 43 percent, dipping to the low 30s in the 1980s but gradually increasing through the 1990s and reaching 60 percent in May 2003. In July 2003, support fell to 50 percent and remained at about that level through 2005 before jumping to 56 percent in May 2006.

Last year, 55 percent of Americans said homosexual relations should be legal and 57 percent accepted them as an alternative lifestyle.

Currently, three states allow same-sex marriage - Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Vermont. Meanwhile, at least 26 states have adopted constitutional amendments or similar measures prohibiting same-sex marriage.