April 22, 2009 at 1:00 am

Deb Price

More Republicans embrace gay equality

Rumblings of change are beginning to be heard from deep inside the Republican Party.

The gay Log Cabin Republicans' recent national convention offered a tantalizing peek at a possible not-so-distant future when the Republican Party has finally -- and firmly -- turned the corner and embraced equality for gay Americans.

Marquee speakers were Steve Schmidt, former senior campaign strategist for 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and former New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, a founder of the moderate Republican Leadership Council.

Representing the youth vote that will determine the GOP's fate was Meghan McCain, 24-year-old daughter of Sen. McCain and a contributor at TheDailyBeast.com.

Each supports marriage for same-sex couples.

That puts them firmly in the minority of today's Republicans, but definitely not of future Republicans if the party is to grow, appeal to young voters, and be competitive beyond the south.

"We were crushed by the Obama campaign with voters under 30," Schmidt pointed out.

What distinguishes the youth vote, he continued, is "a greater acceptance of people who find happiness in relationships with members of the same sex." One day, a majority of Americans will follow, and, he added, "sooner or later the Republican Party will catch up."

Whitman, tackling the problem of broadening the party without scaring away social conservatives, said, "It's not about saying to the Christian conservatives, 'There is no place for you.' It's about saying, 'Would you please stop saying there's no place for us?'"

Afterward, Whitman told me, "It's not going to threaten my marriage to have a gay couple marry." She wants the issue out of the party platform.

Meghan McCain was blunter: "Republicans' using Twitter and Facebook isn't going to miraculously make people think we're cool again. Breaking free from obsolete positions and providing real solutions that don't divide our nation further will."

It'd be easy to dismiss the trio of speakers as preaching to choir, but encouraging rumblings are coming from elsewhere as well:

Gay Republicans point with pride to the fact that eight Republicans in the Vermont Legislature helped override the governor's veto of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, gay Iowans are set to begin marrying on Monday, thanks to a ruling written by a Republican appointee. A University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll conducted just before the April 3 unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling for gay marriage found that 58 percent of Iowans aged 18 to 29 favor gay marriage, 17 percent prefer civil unions, and only 16 percent oppose both.

That means fewer than one out of five favors the official Republican position.

Contrast that with Iowans 65 or older: 18 percent favor gay marriage, 31 percent civil unions and 42 percent neither.

If you were running a company that hopes to still be around in 20 years, which customers would you appeal to?

That question is being asked in elite Republican circles. In a survey of its Republican political insiders, National Journal magazine found in its most recent issue that only 50 percent think their party should oppose gay marriage, while 8 percent think the party should embrace it and 37 percent say it should steer clear of the issue.

Speaking freely behind the cloak of anonymity, one Republican insider said, "Perception of complete hostility to all gay rights is killing the GOP among voters under 29. Evolve or perish, Republicans."

A growing number of Republican thinkers are concluding that their party's future hinges on finding a way to comfortably embrace gay rights.

Reach Deb Price at dprice@detnews.com">dprice@detnews.com or (202) 662-8736