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Navigating same-sex marriage debate a difficult issue for GOP White House hopefuls

Navigating same-sex marriage debate a difficult issue for GOP White House hopefuls
GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio
GOP presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio AP (File)

NEW YORK — For Democratic politicians, same-sex marriage has become an easy issue: They’re for it. Many Republican VIPs – notably the presidential hopefuls – face a far more complicated landscape.

Looming ahead for these contenders are early contests in states such as Iowa and South Carolina, where a major role will be played by conservative Christian voters firmly opposed to same-sex marriage. Further down the road is the 2016 general election, where the nominee will likely need backing from independents and moderate Republicans who support gay unions.

“Republicans are trying to thread the needle on this, with varying degrees of skill. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why,” said Gregory Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, which represents gay conservatives and seeks to make the GOP more inclusive.

“The more shrewd members of the field know that in order to win the general election, they cannot be in absolute opposition to LGBT equality,” Angelo said. “If that is their position, they automatically turn off a large portion of the electorate.”

Some of the most conservative contenders – such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – are comfortable using forceful language in opposing gay marriage and railing against judges who have struck down state laws against it. Others, even while sharing disapproval of gay marriage, have used softer phrasing.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida says he’d attend a same-sex wedding of someone close to him, and remarked that sexual preference is something most people are born with, not a choice. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has suggested gay couples could enter into civil contracts. And former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, after a court order made gay marriage legal in his home state, urged respect for the rule of law.

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Bush added: “I hope that we can also show respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue, including couples making lifetime commitments to each other who are seeking greater legal protections and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in four states’ same-sex marriage cases on April 28, and by the end of June is expected to rule on whether such marriages – now allowed in 36 states – should be recognized nationwide. Cruz has signed a brief filed with the high court on behalf of 57 GOP lawmakers, urging the justices not to impose a nationwide rule and instead to let the political debate continue.

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