Republicans Risk Their Future in Opposing Gay Marriage

Marriage-equality advocates notched a major win yesterday when Washington became the seventh state—and just the second west of the Mississippi River—to legalize same-sex marriage. There was less jubilation when, on the same day, the New Jersey Senate passed a marriage-equality bill by a 24-to-16 margin. The legislation is expected to pass the state Assembly when it comes up for a vote later this week, but Governor Chris Christie has promised to veto the bill when it comes across his desk. The Senate vote didn't meet the two-thirds threshold to override the governor's veto, likely leaving same-sex marriage stalled in the Garden State until the next crop of legislators are elected.

Christie's likely veto is a clear attempt to gain stature among national Republicans rather than appeal to New Jersey voters. A Quinnipiac poll last month found that New Jersey residents favor legalizing same-sex marriage by a 52-to-42 percent margin. But Christie pictures himself as a national figure poised for higher office in a party that still opposes marriage equality. Ed Kilgore speculates that, "deliberately or not, Christie’s stand against marriage equality will burnish his credentials for securing the second spot on the national GOP ticket this summer." Beyond a spot behind his endorsee Mitt Romney on the GOP ticket, Republicans have speculated that Christie could be a major presidential contender come 2016 should Obama win re-election this year.

The Republican Party might oppose legalized unions at the moment, but for the first time in 2011, a majority of the country disagreed. Support for same-sex marriage is growing each year across all age brackets, most significantly among younger Americans. When Gallup conducted a poll on the issue last year, 70 percent of people between the ages of 18-34 wanted to see the law changed. It's only a matter of time before it becomes the prevailing view.

Opposition to same-sex marriage will remain a plank of the GOP platform for some time, but it will become increasingly difficult for individual politicians seeking higher office to outright oppose LGBT rights. Perhaps not by the time Christie runs in 2016, but by 2020 it could be hard for any presidential contender, even a Republican, to oppose marriage equality without seeming like an outright bigot. A few Republicans have begun to see the writing on the wall; Christie might veto the bill, but he has softened his stance a bit by proposing that the measure go up for a public referendum later this year. Based on current polls, it could pass, and the would-be presidential candidate could wash his hands clean.

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