A year and a half after former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney pledged to oppose efforts to legalize same-sex marriage, his leading adviser during the 2012 campaign in Iowa spoke out in support of marriage equality.
At an event at a Des Moines law firm hosted by Iowa Republicans for Freedom, a pro-same-sex marriage group, Romney's Iowa strategist David Kochel joined former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (who is openly gay) to make the conservative case for legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Support for the freedom to marry is emerging as a mainstream position in the Republican Party. If we are to be the party of principles and values, isn't our first obligation to the principle of freedom, and the value of individual liberty?” Kochel said at the event, according to a press release.
Although he has never spoken publicly about the matter before now, Kochel said he has felt this way for a while. Like many politicians and political operatives who have "evolved" on this issue, including President Barack Obama, Kochel cited influential conversations with friends and family.
He shared an anecdote with The Huffington Post about being invited to speak at his son's high school government class during the campaign. Several students brought up the subject of same-sex marriage. "I answered the questions very honestly," he recalled. "'Well, for me personally,' I said, 'I think that rights need to be extended to all people regardless of orientation.' And several of the students started nodding their heads, and began to question why so many in my party don't have this position."
After the class, Kochel said, he took his son aside. "He said to me, 'Dad, you know I have friends whose parents are gay, and I just don't see anything wrong with it, and nobody I know sees anything wrong with it.'"
Growing numbers of polls show young people increasingly support same-sex marriage, even as their older, conservative counterparts continue to oppose it. In a recent ABC/Washington Post survey, more than six in 10 young adults said they were in favor of marriage equality, while two-thirds of senior citizens said they were against it.
Data like this highlights a concern that Kochel and others in the Republican Party have shared since Romney lost in November. "I think that our party generally has to think through how best to appeal to some new groups of voters," he said. "We've got to start to modernize some of our views and positions."
Kochel's concerns seem particularly resonant in Iowa, a swing state that Obama has won in both elections. At the Iowa caucuses this year, a key Republican primary, not a single candidate supported same-sex marriage. "The candidates mainly tried to outbid each other in pandering to its socially conservative Republicans," wrote The New York Times editorial staff. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/04/opinion/the-iowa-caucuses.html
"The Republicans have begun, painfully and grudgingly, to follow public opinion on this issue," said Andrew Koppelman, a political science professor at Northwestern University.
"Their ultimate capitulation on this, as with immigration, is probably inevitable. And this is good news. The whole point of democracy is that politicians have to tailor their positions to follow the will of the public. It will be interesting to see how Republicans divide on this issue in the next presidential primaries. I'd be surprised if they are as united as they were last time."