onelove

In a move that surprised many of his compatriots, Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois endorsed gay marriage in a public statement earlier this week. Says Kirk: “Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back— government has no place in the middle.”

Kirk is not the first Republican to recently back gay marriage. Last month, Senator Rob Portman (R – Ohio) changed his stance on same-sex marriage in part because of his own son, who came out to his parents in 2011. Portman cites his desire for his son to have “the same opportunities that his brother and sister would have.” This is a stark change from his earlier position: Portman was an original co-sponsor of the federally mandated ban on same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and voted to prohibit same-sex couples from adopting children in Washington State. Portman’s previously hostile position on gay rights even prompted hundreds of University of Michigan students to protest his selection as commencement speaker in 2011. But that’s all changed – Portman recently wrote an editorial in The Columbus Dispatch in which he explained his new stance: “I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn’t deny them the opportunity to get married.”

Unlike Kirk and Portman, most Republicans in Washington have not embraced a supportive position on marriage equality – and some have come out swinging against it. Take Georgia GOP Chairwoman Sue Everhart, who has recently come into the national spotlight due to her warnings that “straight people will get gay married” in order to take advantage of the system. She says she fears that straight friends will wed one another merely to obtain the 1,100 federal benefits that come along with marriage.

This past Sunday, Everhart told the Marietta Daily Journal “You may be as straight as an arrow, and you may have a friend that is as straight as an arrow. Say you had a great job with the government where you had this wonderful health plan. I mean, what would prohibit you from saying that you’re gay, and y’all get married and still live as separate, but you get all the benefits? I just see so much abuse in this it’s unreal. I believe a husband and a wife should be a man and a woman, the benefits should be for a man and a woman. There is no way that this is about equality. To me, it’s all about a free ride.” Everhart makes no mention of the equally conceivable (and equally improbable) possibility that straight friends of opposite genders can also marry only for this so-called “free ride.”

Despite outlandish claims such as Everhart’s, it seems like the tide is beginning to change, if only slightly, in the GOP. Last month’s CNN/ORC International Poll shows that 53% of Americans support same-sex marriage (up from 40% in 2007). Fifty-seven percent of survey respondents also said they had a family member or good friend who is gay or lesbian, a major reason for the increased support, according to CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “[Survey results suggest] that the rise in support for gay marriage is due in part to the rising number of Americans who have become aware that someone close to them is gay. Some people have recently taken to calling it the ‘Rob Portman effect’” says Holland.

While a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, most Republicans do not. With Republicans losing support with America’s Latino and youth populations, the GOP is in a tight spot. Can they afford to continue losing the support of gay and gay-friendly voters?

GOP strategist Ed Rogers says “Republicans look awkward trying to straddle the gay marriage issue. During the transition from ‘against’ to ‘support’, officials don’t want to get ahead of their base or abandon a position that was so clear a short time ago.” But it seems that it may happen in time. Even Republican Arizona Senator Jeff Flake has gone on record saying that he believes it “inevitable” that the GOP will someday present a presidential candidate who supports marriage equality. But will it be too late for the GOP?