New Marriage Bill-Prominent Gay Republicans Helped Smooth the Way for Its Proposal

Their understated efforts are a big reason why a bill to guarantee recognition of same-sex marriages across the country went from being a target of an election-season political maneuver few expected to be enacted to being an initiative embraced by a decisive majority of senators and an unexpected victory for the gay rights movement that will be one of the final acts of the Democratically-controlled Congress.

Centerline Action, a centrist charity backed by Ken Mehlman, Bush’s 2004 campaign manager and former chairman of the Republican National Committee who came out as gay in 2010, and others spearheaded the effort.

It involved flooding the phone lines of Republican senators with calls from constituents who favored the same-sex marriage measure, presenting them with polling that showed that voters were more likely to support a proponent of the bill than somebody who opposed it, and a public pressure campaign aimed at demonstrating widespread conservative support for the legislation.

As Centerline’s board president James Dozier put it, “when this erupted in the House, we immediately went into action and called out to all of those operatives, supporters, and activists who had been engaged in this subject kind of gathered the gang back together.” Dozier, a former Republican staffer in Congress, is married to a man and has advocated for decades for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

 47 Republicans voted with Democrats to push the bill through the House

However, the measure’s degree of bipartisanship was sufficient to change it from a simple propaganda exercise into a meaningful legislative endeavor, even if the number of Republicans who supported it amounted to fewer than a fourth of the party’s contingent in that chamber.

Many bipartisan attempts have been hampered by the Senate’s need for 60 votes for significant legislation, which requires at least 10 Republican votes to pass The measure’s success reflected a sea change in public opinion on same-sex marriage over the past decade when it went from being a partisan flashpoint to being broadly supported by politicians of all stripes.

Republican strategists understood that communicating this shift to GOP senators who may otherwise see supporting same-sex marriage rights as too hazardous was essential to the success of their initiative.

Republican pollster Alicia Downs found that “valid and legal same-sex marriage is prevalent among crucial voting blocs, like suburban voters, as well as young and middle-aged voters,” in her state-by-state polling for Centerline.

Over sixty percent of suburban people think same-sex marriage should be legally recognized

Mehlman, in collaboration with Centerline, commissioned polling in nine states with Republican senators who were publicly on the fence about whether or not to support the Respect for Marriage Act. These nine states are Alaska, Missouri, West Virginia, Iowa, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, Utah, and Wyoming.

One-quarter of Hoosier voters were shown to be substantially more likely to back a Senate candidate who supported gun control. Seventy-six percent of Iowans “are more inclined to support a senator who votes for the RMA or report no negative influence on their vote” because of the RMA, according to the poll.

The data was shared with senators from certain states and tied in with a grassroots effort in which activists encouraged constituents to call their senators to support the bill. The outfit advocated for Republican causes by patching through 30,000 calls to 16 different Senate offices.

“Most major political decisions don’t get made only in Washington,” Mehlman added. You will have a lot of sways if you can accurately gauge voter sentiment and congressional district support while rallying activists and other interested parties.

A majority of senators from all of the states that participated in the poll ultimately supported the legislation.


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