Republicans Quietly Tap Lobbyists for Shift on Marriage Equality

In Depth

While no progressive could be blamed for thinking that the Grand Old Party is far from changing its tune on gay rights issues, apparently it’s happening. While marriage equality has gained traction amongst the majority of Americans, Republicans are quietly turning to K Street lobbying firms to help them shift their stances.

Formally, a majority of Republicans in Congress oppose marriage equality. The party platform even specifically speaks to the Republican goal of “preserving” “traditional marriage.” The problem is, a majority of Americans no longer see same-sex marriage as a moral oxymoron. Whether for reasons of political pragmatism or because of personal connections to the LGBT community (such as siblings or children), there are now a growing number of GOP politicians breaking off from the official party doctrine. Eight Republicans in Congress support marriage equality, four per chamber. As more and more Republicans seem to realise the writing is on the wall, they’ve turned to lobbyists to help them in marketing their shifting stances.

Lobbyists like Kathryn Lehman. Lehman is a top Republican lobbyist. If her name is familiar to you at all, it’s probably not for a good reason. You see, Lehmen actually helped to write the Defense of Marriage Act, back when she was employed on Capitol Hill itself. She’s made her own shift. Now she is actively lobbying around fifty GOP politicians to support marriage equality, support transgender rights, and pass a federal non-discrimination act.

And she’s hardly alone. There’s even former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, who is now actively trying to get conservatives onboard. For Mehlman the issue of gay rights is aligned with conservative principles.

We’re also trying to protect a party that we care a lot about. There has been societal change. Any political party that ignores societal change does so at its own peril. As conservatives, we don’t have to ignore it. There is a strong conservative argument for safe schools, for civil marriage, merit-based decisions at work.

Although I fundamentally disagree with the former chair’s view of social issues as fundamentally libertarian (I am, after all, a fervent democratic socialist in a nation where there is actually an active, major socialist party), I would much rather have an argument over socialism/liberalism with an ideological opponent who believes I am a worthy human being who deserves civil rights. I may disagree with the party that Mehlman is trying to keep relevant, but I strongly believe in the need for a loyal opposition and spirited debate.

I want to truly believe that Republicans like Lehman and Mehlman have honestly come to believe, deep in their hearts, that LGBT+ rights are a fundamental chapter in the never ending search for greater equality and freedom. However, I’m a political reporter, by training and by experience. I worked for the Democratic National Committee and for individual candidates. I understand how the game is played. The fact is that the writing is on the wall, as said by Gregory Angelo, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.

I have had meetings with some of the most rock-ribbed social conservatives in Washington. A lot of them see the writing on the wall, they see the direction the country is headed. People understand that right now gay individuals largely do not have the right to marry, whereas most Americans believe employment protections for LGBT people already exist. A lot of work we do is reminding people that it does not.

The Pew Research Center released a poll earlier this year which showed more than 60 percent of Republicans under the age of 30 support marriage equality. I was also in the fraternity/sorority “Greek” system, and this matches up with the views of my peers. Most were staunchly Republican. Most were pro-gay rights. Now, middle-aged GOP politicans are going to have to adapt to this sea change in the voting demographics if they want to keep winning elections.

Image via Shutterstock.

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