Gay Marriage Still Resonates As Top Issue Issue for Some Republicans

Some Republicans say they intend to use the issue of marriage equality for gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge issue in elections next year, according to Roll Call:

In 2012, gay marriage “will truly energize a segment of the conservative base,” predicted Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who is considering a repeat White House bid.

Huckabee told Roll Call last week that it may not be “the hot, dominant issue for the next year and a half,” but the conservative groups aiming for national attention are hoping to keep marriage in the headlines.

Republicans point to ongoing battles in Iowa and New Hampshire to roll back gains in marriage equality in those states (both states allow full marriage rights).

Despite these ongoing battles, there are signs that “gay marriage” may not be the wedge issue it once was—and politicians who put the issue front and center may risk losing a larger base of support.

For example, as Sarah Posner has noted here, for the first time more Americans now support marriage equality than oppose it:

…the shift is dramatic; in 1988, just 22 years ago, only 12% of Americans supported gay marriage. In 2010, it was 46%, with only 40% opposed. And it’s even a big shift from 2008 to 2010: support went up seven points, and opposition trended downward seven points.

The research shows young evangelicals are still opposed to marriage equality, but overall, the support for gay and lesbian rights is growing among younger voters.

Despite these risks, Huckabee seem dedicated to the issue, even titling the first chapter of his new book “The Most Important Form of Government is a Father, a Mother, and Children.”

”The family structure that made this country the most powerful and prosperous in the history of the world—father, mother, children—is under assault today as never before,” he wrote, later adding: “Still, I believe that we’re in denial about potential problems as we see more and more homosexual couples raising families. It will be years before we know whether or not our little guinea pigs turn out to be good at marriage and parenthood.”

In a side note, we don’t have to wait “years” before knowing how children of gay and lesbian parents do. Studies are already showing they’re just fine.

While Roll Call suggests “gay marriage” is “teed up” to be a big wedge issue, it doesn’t seem to be featured as the centerpiece of other potential Republican presidential hopefuls. Sarah Palin—who has already expressed her opposition to marriage equality—still got in trouble recently for not condemning the presence of the gay Republican group GOProud at CPAC last month. Instead, she castigated conservatives for not “reaching out to others” and engaging them in conversation.

2011 CPAC straw poll winner Ron Paul is no friend to gay rights, but he sees marriage as a church issue and not a state issue, saying, “True Christians, I believe, believe that marriage is a church function, not a state function. It’s not a state function. I don’t think you need a license to get married.”

Even second place finisher Mitt Romney (who won a recent poll of New Hampshire Republicans) has backed off talking too much about gay rights issues and doesn’t appear to be “teeing” it up anytime soon. Even the Republican delegates who backed him listed “reducing the size of the federal government” as their top issue for whoever is the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.

The battle for marriage equality is far from over, but it’s not clear whether the issue still has enough punch to carry the large part of anyone’s presidential bid—especially given the continuing state of the economy. Huckabee seems to be casting his lot on marriage equality to lure the social conservatives for whom the issues still resonates.