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Barone: Support for same-sex marriage crosses party lines

Published: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

In an opinion article in the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman announced that he has changed his mind and now supports same-sex marriage.

He wrote that on learning that one of his sons is gay, he “wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister.”

He is not the only prominent Republican to come to this view in this way. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is another.

And at the Conservative Political Action Committee convention, a panel sponsored by the Competitive Enterprise Institute drew a large and approving crowd for a discussion labeled, “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.”

It’s clear now that support for same-sex marriage crosses party lines. That’s what one might expect, from polls that show a huge shift of opinion on this issue over the past two decades.

In the early 1990s, large majorities opposed same-sex marriage. In 1996, Bill Clinton didn’t hesitate before signing the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. He now urges its repeal.

In 2004, after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by a 4-3 margin discovered that the state’s 1780 Constitution required recognition of same-sex marriages, George W. Bush supported the Family Marriage Amendment, which would bar such marriages across the nation.That was never going to be ratified, but it did help Bush mobilize tradition-minded voters in states such as Ohio in the 2004 election.

Now many polls show majorities or pluralities of Americans favor same-sex marriage. In last November, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington approved same-sex marriage.

Voters in Minnesota rejected a constitutional amendment that would ban it. That’s in contrast to the results in 30 states, all but one of them in 2008 or earlier, where voters approved similar amendments.Many of those states would surely vote the other way now, including California, whose 52 to 48 percent vote against same-sex marriage in 2008 was overturned by federal trial and appeals courts in a case now before the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court could rule that the Constitution requires same-sex marriage everywhere. Or it could affirm the appeals court’s rationale, which applies to California only.

Or it could say that the Constitution leaves this issue to the states. That’s the outcome that, as a supporter of same-sex marriage, I prefer.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, most by legislative or popular vote. Another 11 states have no constitutional amendment barring it.

And the 30 states with such constitutional amendments could repeal those amendments by popular vote.

That would require continuing debate and discussion. A good place to start is for everyone to recognize that, as Portman writes, “well-intentioned people can disagree on the question of marriage for gay couples.”

This is an issue that divides Americans not just on partisan or religious but also most conspicuously on generational lines. Young people, including many Republicans, heavily favor same-sex marriage. Elderly people, including many Democrats, heavily oppose it.

If opinion continues to move toward same-sex marriage, it will be a tough issue for Republicans, since most of their voters currently are opposed. But it will be a tough issue for some Democrats, as well, since many black voters are staunchly opposed.

But it’s an issue we can handle better if we respect and acknowledge the good faith of those on the other side.

• Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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