GOP Played Critical Role in Ushering LGBT Votes

Rob Portman GOP Support for Gay
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

We all know the Hollywood caricature of Republicans. Rich, greedy, white traditionalists: mostly male, old and anti-gay. Think Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock,” Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons.” You can strain your brain trying to think of a single sympathetic Republican portrayal. The good guys are always Democrats.

The truth is that we wouldn’t be winning marriage equality without GOP support. The first step came from New York, the first Republican-led legislature to pass marriage equality in June 2011. Since then, reform Republicans have played a critical role in states ushering in LGBT freedom. In New Hampshire, 119 Republicans joined with Democrats to fend off a right-wing attempt to repeal marriage equality. GOP majorities in Indiana rewrote that state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to include LGBT civil rights protections.

More than 232 Republican state legislators have voted for marriage equality. While only 11 federal legislators publicly support the issue, 10 GOP senators helped break a 10-year deadlock to pass LGBT employment non-discrimination legislation in 2013.

See More: Read Variety’s marriage equality issue, featuring Q&As, columns, features and analysis on Hollywood’s role in gay rights

A majority of Republicans under the age of 50 back marriage equality. And there is solid GOP support for every law that has been enacted to expand freedom to LGBT Americans, including healthcare decision-making protections (86%), repeal of Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (68%), joint tax filing (70%) and surviving spouse death benefits (60%).

And support for LGBT rights is growing among communities of faith. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, there is majority support for marriage equality within major religious groups: 61% of Catholics, 62% of white mainline Protestants, and 77% of Jewish Americans. Millennial evangelicals show 64% support.

Yes, most GOP elected officials are still out of step with constituencies. But remember: President Obama didn’t come out for marriage equality until 2012. Hillary Clinton didn’t come out publicly in favor of it until after GOP Senator Rob Portman of Ohio voiced his support in 2013. Other Democratic senators (Bob Casey, Jon Tester, and Claire McCaskill to name a few), not wanting to look more right-wing than the courageous Ohio senator, then backed it.

More than 300 leaders signed an amicus brief arguing the conservative case for marriage equality, including David Koch (yes, one of the dreaded Koch brothers!) and Rudy Giuliani. Republican-appointed and conservative judges have written some of the most important decisions advancing marriage equality in the last two years.

From Judge Callie Granade in Alabama and Judge John Jones in Pennsylvania (both appointed by George W. Bush) to Judge Richard Posner in the 7th Circuit and Judge Bernard Friedman in Michigan (both appointed by Ronald Reagan), they paved the way for a legal framework that values all families. There’s a rising generation of reform Republicans committed to expanding individual freedom. Without Republican support, we wouldn’t be addressing the issue nationwide.

Margaret Hoover is president of the American Unity Fund.