Ward Room
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Opinion: Embracing Gay Rights, Abortion Would Make GOP the Party of Freedom

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    NEWSLETTERS

     Sen. Mark Kirk helped quash the campaign to dump Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady over his support for gay marriage. In January, Brady declared his “full support” for the same-sex marriage bill that has since passed the state senate. In retaliation, newly-elected state Sen. Jim Oberweis called for a meeting of the Illinois Republican State Central Committee, to discuss removing Brady from his post.

    The meeting was supposed to have taken place over the weekend, but it never happened. Kirk made a phone call to 9th District Committeman Jack Dorgan of Rosemont. Dorgan agreed not to attend, denying the rebels the votes needed to get rid of Brady.
    Kirk has been a supporter of gay rights. As a congressman, he voted against a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, and in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As a senator, he voted to end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. That’s what Illinoisans want. In 2010, Kirk won, while Bill Brady, Mr. Anti Civil Unions, lost his campaign for governor.
    Kirk and Oberweis are fighting over the direction of the Republican Party. If the Republicans want to win in this state, they’ll follow Kirk, the only member of his party to win a major statewide office in the last 15 years. As Jennifer Rubin pointed out in the Washington Post, the party’s opposition to gay marriage has become an obstacle to selling all its other policies:
    [G]ay rights, like immigration reform, is increasingly popular among groups that Republicans must attract to win national elections. It is, I would suggest, a gateway issue that candidates must pass through to get a real audience with voters who have come to view Republicans with suspicion.
    Among Republicans under age 30, 51 percent support the legalization of same-sex marriage in their state;
    All major non-evangelical religious groups (white non-evangelical protestants, white Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, African American non-evangelical, Jewish) are ready to legalize marriage for same-sex couples;
    It is noteworthy that even among those who oppose gay marriage seem to understand that they have lost the argument. The “problem,” if you will, is that the pocket of concentrated opposition to gay marriage — older white evangelicals — vote in strong numbers in GOP primaries. 
    It’s difficult for Republicans to convince young people they’re the Party of Freedom when they oppose the freedom of gays to marry, and of women to control their reproductive destiny. If the Republicans were to give up their opposition to gay rights and abortion -- as Kirk has done -- they could present themselves as the party of personal and economic freedom. 
    Minnesota state Sen. Branden Peterson, who is 27 years old, put it best when he said, “As a strong proponent of limited government, conservative principles and individual liberty, I’m proud to support legislation that would extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in the state of Minnesota … I strongly believe that true freedom means freedom for everyone.”
    That’s a much more consistent message, one that may win back some of the under-30 voters who are so overwhelmingly Democratic.