Gay rights activists march on Washington, October 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Hillary Clinton, who was the first lady of the United States when President Bill Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act,” has recorded a warm and thoughtful endorsement of marriage equality. With the release Monday of her statement, the Democratic Party is completing an evolution on the issue of same-sex marriage. Never again will a serious contender for the party’s presidential nomination—whether Clinton runs in 2016 or not—oppose the right of lesbian couples and gay couples to marry.
But the Democratic Party is not alone in evolving.
Republicans are moving more slowly on the issue. But they are moving. And in many senses this movement provides the most dramatic evidence of the rapid progress being made by proponents of LGBT rights.
When Ohio Senator Rob Portman announced last week that he is now a supporter of marriage equality, he became the latest prominent Republican to abandon the official position of a party that just a few years ago was rigidly—and almost universally—opposed to same-sex marriage.
“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,” said the Ohio senator, who was high on Mitt Romney’s list of vice presidential prospects.
The senator was inspired to abandon his embrace of discrimination at least in part because his son is gay. Other Republicans have been influenced by family connections and friendships. And still others are shifting their stances because they know the Republican Party needs to change.
The Grand Old Party is in a process of transformation that is notable in its scope and character. Less than a decade ago, when states were voting to amend constitutions to formally bar same-sex couples from marrying, leading Republicans were overwhelmingly supportive of discrimination. Now, a growing number of leading Republicans are explicitly rejecting discrimination and taking the position that a new Washington Post/ABC News Poll says 58 percent of all Americans now embrace: “It should be legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married.”
A 2012 presidential contender who was among the top finishers in the New Hampshire primary, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, says: “There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to forge that same relationship with the person they love.”