Millennial Republicans see risk for party in gay marriage response

 

Millennial Republicans are urging GOP leaders to adopt an inclusive tone on gay marriage following last week's Supreme Court ruling.

They argue that combative rhetoric risks alienating a new generation of voters who could abandon Republican candidates over the issue.

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“Dignity, respect and fairness are a huge part of what this generation wants to see in this debate,” said Alex Smith, national chairwoman of the College Republican National Committee.

Polling indicates the economy remains the most important issue on millennials minds. Republicans argue that young people leaving college and struggling to find jobs in a slow economic recovery will warm to their party’s message.

Smith, however, argued candidates' tone on gay rights and social issues could help or hinder those hopes.

“If we don't strike the right tone on gay rights — we could start to see the door close on us even if we have the right ideas on the economy that millennials want,” she said.

Polls show millennials are likely to favor gay marriage regardless of their political party.

Sixty-one percent of Republicans between the ages of 18 and 34 back gay marriage, according to a Project Right Side and American Unity Fund poll last month. That's 4 percentage points higher than the 57 percent support among all voters. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.19 percentage points.

Republican presidential candidates denounced the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, though some offered tougher takes than others.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) called the ruling “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation's history” during an interview with Sean Hannity.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was more measured. He said that, while he believes in traditional marriage, “we should love our neighbor and respect others — including those making lifetime commitments.”

GOP strategists and pundits are calling on their candidates to be careful with the issue.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said he doesn’t expect “the 2016 Republican presidential nominee to be at a San Francisco gay pride parade.”

Still, he argued candidates should consider the views of millennial voters on gay rights seriously as they calibrate their positions.

S.E. Cupp, a conservative CNN contributor who backs gay marriage, saw her CNN appearance on Friday go viral, when she teared up while on-air discussing the Supreme Court's ruling.

“I didn't get emotional because of the politics,” she said. “It's about millennials watching their friends come out; this is about parents who have seen their gay teens commit suicide. ... This is personal for people.”

Republican candidates competing for the votes of social conservatives in Iowa will have an incentive to talk tough on the issue, which could pull more centrist candidates, such as Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), to the right.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called for civil disobedience to the Supreme Court ruling, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he has no intention of evolving on the issue.

Both are hoping to do well in the Iowa caucuses.

Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, conceded that public opinion on gay marriage has shifted. Still, he argued the court’s “judicial activism” in declaring gay marriage legal instead of letting it play out at the ballot was wrong.

Cupp said that many Republicans question whether the government should be in the marriage business at all.

Still, she argued the gay marriage issue won’t fade and warned that Republicans could lose out on a generation of voters by standing in opposition.

“This issue is not going away — it's not a fad,” she said. “And the Republican Party stands to be left behind if it doesn't come to terms that young Republicans have decided to embrace this issue.”