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GOP lawmakers fear consequences over support for same-sex marriage

Friday, February 15, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — As more state legislatures around the country consider whether to legalize same-sex weddings, an analysis of gay marriage votes in eight states shows that Republican lawmakers who backed it often faced consequences — including loss of their seats.

According to roll call votes analyzed by The Associated Press, in the eight times nationwide that state legislatures voted for gay marriage, just 47 Republicans bucked the party line out of many hundreds who voted against it.

A vote to allow gay marriage in Minnesota has recently grown more likely in its Legislature, and could come as early as this spring. In Illinois, the state Senate voted 34-21 on Thursday to legalize gay marriage, sending the measure on to the state House. In Rhode Island, a gay marriage bill passed last month by the House awaits a Senate vote. Similar pushes could surface soon in Delaware, Hawaii and New Jersey.

Hundreds gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol Thursday to call on lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

Ill. Sen. Dale Righter (R-Mattoon) talks with Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) before a debate of a marriage equality bill that was approved by the Senate on Thursday.
Photo: Justin L. Fowler, The State Journal-Register/AP

Ill. Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) announces his intentions to vote yes on a measure to legalize same-sex marriage. Barickman was the only Republican to vote yes on the bill which passed by a vote of 34-21 on Thursday.
Photo: Justin L. Fowler, The State Journal-Register/AP

Hundreds gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday to call on lawmakers to legalize same-sex marriage.
Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

In Minnesota, majority Democrats don’t necessarily need Republican votes to pass gay marriage. But a bipartisan effort would improve its chances, because some Democrats from rural areas are nervous about how a vote for gay marriage might be received by their socially conservative constituents. Democratic leaders are also leery of a party-line vote for gay marriage, after years of accusing Republicans of fixating on social issues at the expense of the state’s economy.

Still, Republican lawmakers in Minnesota and elsewhere who are inclined to back gay marriage face clear risks.

“It was largely responsible for my loss,” said Jean White, a former Republican state senator in Colorado whose 2011 vote for civil unions became an issue in a primary challenge by a fellow Republican. In that contest, a Virginia-based conservative group mailed flyers that showed two men kissing and the title: “State Senator Jean White’s Idea of ‘Family Values?’”

Of the 47 Republican legislators nationwide who voted yes starting in 2009, only 21 are in office today. In New York, only one of four Republican senators who supported gay marriage is still in the Legislature. One lost a primary, one retired and one lost the general election after narrowly winning a bitter primary. A New Hampshire Republican representative lost a primary after her 2009 vote for gay marriage, and in Maryland the former Senate Republican leader relinquished his leadership post when he started working with Democrats on a gay marriage bill that passed last year.

“I got a lot of flak, a lot,” said that senator, Allan Kittleman. He’s planning to leave the Senate this year to run for a county office instead. In Illinois, only one Republican senator out of 19 voted for gay marriage Thursday.

In Washington, which passed gay marriage in 2012, two of six Republicans who backed the bill are no longer in office.

“One of my colleagues swore at me on the floor of the Senate during the vote,” said Cheryl Pflug, a former Washington senator. “It was very difficult. It was kind of like an Amish shunning.”

Several Republicans who voted yes said they’re still secure in their personal conviction. White, the former Colorado senator, said two of her brothers have gay children. Pflug said she got to know gay colleagues at the Capitol and learned their lives were little different than hers. Kittleman cited his own father, a state senator in the 1960s who was a Republican trailblazer on civil rights for blacks.

Such dilemmas now loom for Minnesota Republican lawmakers. Legal gay marriage, until recently a longshot in Minnesota, has grown more likely in recent weeks. Gov. Mark Dayton is a vocal supporter, and Democratic legislative leaders have said they wouldn’t block the bill.

A crowd of more than a thousand pro-gay marriage activists gathered at the Capitol in St. Paul on Thursday for a rally, with Democratic lawmakers and religious leaders arguing that last fall’s defeat of the gay marriage ban cleared the path to legalize it. No GOP lawmakers were at the rally.

Minnesota’s Legislature has 29 Republican lawmakers who represent House or Senate districts that voted against the proposed gay marriage ban. Many are reluctant to say how they might vote on legalizing it, including Jenifer Loon of socially moderate Eden Prairie, the second-ranking House Republican.

“I’m not drawing any lines in the sand,” said Sen. Carla Nelson, a Republican whose Rochester district voted against the amendment.

Autumn Leva, spokeswoman for Minnesota for Marriage, the group fighting the bill, said she expected Republicans who stray would risk conservative primary challengers backed by national groups opposed to gay marriage.

Pflug argued that the party’s rigid stance on the issue is costing it votes from young people, suburban women and other demographics.

“I think a lot of conservative elected Republicans are going to go down with the ship on this one,” Pflug said. “I think the Republican Party is at a crossroads.”

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20 more reader comments:

  1. Taking a stand on an issue that is important to you and doing what is right often has consequences. That’s a fact of life. Take a look at the civil rights movement. Go ahead, just skim the wiki page if you like. People lose their LIVES over rights and liberties. If a house/senate seat is all that is in jeopardy here, well, I imagine we can find someone else willing to fill it. I’d rather someone risk their job over something they believe in than sit quietly and do nothing while clinging to their job.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:25pm
  2. Fear us gay people. We will rise.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:25pm
  3. Well said, Jason.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:27pm
  4. Gee, wouldn’t it be great if our leaders voted on what was right instead of what would get them re-elected?

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:32pm
  5. The same reaction people dealt with in the 60′s with inter-racial marriages. People will always accept or hate- but the daily fight for Human Rights will move forward until EVERY Human is equal.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:35pm
  6. Why can’t we live in a world where we don’t have to beg permission from anybody to marry anybody we want?

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:40pm
  7. They need the courage of Mark Grisssanti of NY – a Republicn senator who made the difference in the Senate vote, faced conentrated oppostion, and won reelection in a redistricted district in a majority Democratic area.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:42pm
  8. Everyone has to decide what side they are on. Decency requires it. History will put this matter behind us soon. Do you want to be seen as some people are looked upon who had or do you want to be on the see of love?

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:45pm
  9. Why are GOP feared about gay people getting married? everyone has a right to…And the GOP should shut the hell up about it .and just pass it Nationwide.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:46pm
  10. Because alllowing people to get tattoos means that everyone will rush out to get them, and force ther children to get them too.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 5:03pm
  11. They have a lot to be afraid of. Many, if not most,American are coming to realize that “gay rights”-including but not limited to marriage equality-are really nothing more than American citizen rights, plain and simple. I don’t think I’d like to be a public figure in a party that approves of, promotes and legislates discrimination against any group of American citizens.

    Posted on Friday, February 15, 2013 at 5:44pm
  12. Hope they don’t get themselves killed going down fighting. Because, there gonna lose. It’s just whether they will walk away from it, or be carried away.

    Posted on Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 12:48am
  13. Consequences? This sounds so out of place. Sad we live in a society where this type of thinking exists.

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 9:41am
  14. I’m glad that some Republicans are taking a stand for Gay Rights, despite what their Constituents think.

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 9:41am
  15. WHAT A BUNCH OF BS. They probably lost seats for doing what they do best; ignore the people thaxt put them there. The peolple have spoken and we want EQUAL RIGHTS for everyone. So shut up your whining put your big boy and big girl pants on and do the job you were elected to do!!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 9:46am
  16. Good. Face the consequences. Find out that not supporting equality comes with negative consequences.

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 9:53am
  17. They worry about losing the “bigotry”faction votes!! Instead of doing what’s right!! Same types who where against women voting, inter-racial marriages, and even ending slavery!! HATRED doesn’t go away, it just changes targets!!

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:31am
  18. This is not the same nation it was in 2009 or even 2010…..the majority of Americans support gay marriage and more and more of the voters are recognizing that the GOP close links to the far right are NOT what’s best for our country….they are beginning to see that hate is not the answer and that in spite of what the far right says we as gay Americans deserve the same rights as our straight neighbors….While there may still be some hate spread in the next election I believe just as in the last election more people will see the lies and desperation of the far right that has lead the GOP into a party that is imploding…why support a group that does nothing in your best interest?

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 10:37am
  19. get over it guys!

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 11:06am
  20. It’s so sad that legislators worry about consequences more than doing what’s right. They’re as much of a problem is the ones who don’t think we deserve equality.

    Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 1:34pm