All of us who are working to fundamentally transform the Republican Party on the issues of gay rights and same-sex marriage are aware of the enormity of the challenges we face. Although polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of the Republican rank and file are with us on most gay rights issues (including majority support for either same-sex marriage or civil unions), the party's national and state leadership is still mostly silent on or opposed to full support for gay and lesbian equality.
Nearly every day, however, we are winning small victories that, looked at collectively, demonstrate that we're making real progress and therefore should be hopeful that one day soon a majority of elected Republicans and party officials will support gay rights, including same-sex marriage. Here are a few recent victories that should give us hope:
• Just last month, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus publicly called on Michigan RNC member Dave Agema to resign after a string of viciously homophobic comments, including labeling gays as "filthy" and singing the praises of Russia's Vladimir Putin for his anti-gay campaign. Happily, Chairman Preibus was joined in his condemnation by a variety of Republican officials, including Michigan Congressmen Justin Amash, David Camp, and Fred Upton, not to mention Gov. Rick Snyder, the Republican state chairman, and a variety of state party officials and activists, including the venerable conservative icon and Republican activist Betsy DeVos, who said she was "disillusioned and disgusted" that people like Agema hold leadership positions in the party. That so many Republican officials in the state have had the courage to speak out against Agema should give us all hope.
• Just a few years ago, the proposed state constitutional amendment in Indiana to ban gay marriage would have sailed through the state legislature with little or no debate in this heavily Republican state. Not anymore. The amendment was originally written to ban any state recognition of legal rights for gay couples, including civil unions, and would have even prohibited employer-provided domestic partner benefits. This version easily passed the state Senate in 2011. But the Republican-controlled state House voted 57-40 two weeks ago to delete the language forbidding civil unions and domestic partner benefits, and then sent the measure to the state Senate. Fortunately, the Senate also voted to approve the amended version. That means the measure will not appear on the ballot until 2016, whereas if the Senate had voted to put the anti-civil unions language back in, it could have appeared on this November's ballot. That two-year delay will certainly enhance the chances of defeating the measure, since even now public opinion on the amendment is almost evenly divided. A September 2013 poll showed a slight plurality of 46 percent opposing it. A full 64 percent of Indiana voters believe the constitution should not be amended at all, so it appears opponents of the amendment have a fighting chance to defeat it, even in this staunchly Republican state.
• The Tea Party is not generally thought of as a bastion of support for gay rights, although fairly recent polls have shown majority support for civil unions or same-sex marriage among Tea Party supporters nationwide. Such Tea Party support appears to be evident in Texas, however, even if not widespread. State Representative Sarah Davis, described as a Tea Party extremist by her Democrat opponents, recently met with Log Cabin Republicans and declared that she is not opposed to civil unions for gay couples. According to Texas Equity PAC, an arm of the state's gay rights group, Equality Texas, Rep. Davis authored legislation to guarantee hospital visitation rights and permit advance medical directives for gay couples, and she helped defeat legislation that would have removed LGBT centers from state college campuses. In fact, the gay PAC was impressed enough to endorse Davis in her Republican primary battle against an anti-gay candidate, so there's progress being made even in Texas.
• Most of the prominent spokesmen for anti-gay evangelical organizations like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council have made a career of denouncing gay people in vile and hateful language. But a new evangelical organization, the Imago Dei Campaign, appears ready to change the tone and image of social conservatives, according to a recent article in Time magazine. It quotes a statement from the group that says the "image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever." One of those on the Christian right in support of this new campaign is none other than Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, a group that opposes gay marriage as well as most other expressions of gay rights. Nevertheless, this statement marks the first time that his organization has publicly stated that gays are created in God's image. As Time says, "The inclusion of the 'straight and gay' clause is particularly bold given the heated political climate over gay marriage in the evangelical conversations about controversial topics." Whether this new-found respect by some on the right for those on the pro-gay rights side of the debate will mean an actual change in their policy positions on gay rights remains to be seen. But perhaps if they believe gays are equal in the eyes of God, they'll understand why they should also be equal in the eyes of the law.
All small victories to be sure, but they indicate a shift on gay rights taking place even among the most conservative elements in the Republican Party.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post identified Dave Agema as and RNC member from Minnesota. He is from Michigan.
David Lampo is the author of A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. He serves on the national board of Log Cabin Republicans and blogs at PurpleElephantRepublicans.com.