Republicans mull gay marriage opposition

2012-05-11 10:01
Washington - US President Barack Obama's sudden public endorsement of same-sex marriage caught Republicans off guard, but the party seeking to win back the White House must now decide whether to make gay rights a crucial campaign issue.

Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee who is already locked in a fierce campaign battle with Obama ahead of the 6 November election, quickly and expectedly reiterated his opposition to gay marriage.

He doubled down on Thursday, telling Fox News that "my preference is to have a national standard for marriage and that marriage be defined as being [between] a man and a woman".

States, he said, should be allowed "to determine what rights would be provided for people of the same gender that wanted to have a relationship".

But while Romney and House Speaker John Boehner both said the campaign should be about the economy and jobs, some party luminaries say the race has a new wedge issue, and blasted out e-mails calling for donations to help fight for traditional marriage.

"This is going to be a defining issue this election," Republican Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate who holds considerable sway with religious conservatives, said in an e-mail pitch.

'Tragic day for America'

"Obama... and the Democrats have been a complete failure on economic issues so now they are going to focus on issues that will rile up their base," he added. "Well, Mr President, it's going to rile up our folks also."

Romney's onetime rival Rick Santorum, who bowed out of the presidential race last month and now backs Romney, called Obama's endorsement "a tragic day for America" and for supporters of conservative values.

"While we were always suspicious of his sincerity on this issue, his public proclamation that he now opposes preserving marriage as one man and one woman - the very building block of our society - means the charade is now over and our fight begins in earnest."

Romney found himself on the back foot on gay rights on Thursday, apologising over high school pranks on potentially gay classmates that he admitted "may have gone too far".

"Back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, why, obviously I apologise," Romney told Fox News Radio hours after The Washington Post published an explosive profile of the candidate during his teen years.

According to the Post, which interviewed and quoted several classmates at the elite Cranbrook School in Michigan, Romney led a group of friends who held down a fellow student they presumed was gay while Romney cut the boy's hair.

Alienating groups

Romney told Fox television he had no idea about the classmates' sexual orientation, adding, "I don't recall the incident but I am seeing the reports and I will not argue with that."

The Republican National Committee was portraying Obama's announcement as fraught with risk, as he could alienate some African-American religious groups and Hispanics who have broadly supported Obama but who are opposed to gay marriage.

"I think this is going to open an avenue for a lot of people who haven't made up their minds yet in the Hispanic community," said Jose Fuentes, co-chair of Romney's Latino steering committee.

"If one thing is clear, it's that the Hispanic community is against gay marriage."

A Gallup poll from last week shows 50% of Americans are in support of legal gay marriage and 48% opposed, although the trend is toward increasing tolerance.

But Obama's announcement may not play well in some battleground states where the 2012 election will be decided.

Bump in support

Swing states Colorado, Florida, Ohio and Nevada have all banned gay marriage in the last decade through referendum. Voters in North Carolina passed a constitutional amendment banning the practice on Tuesday.

Several Republican senators said they were not sure whether gay marriage should play a role in the campaign.

"It might make a difference, but only from the standpoint of how people feel personally about the president as opposed to whether or not there's going to be any public policy connected with it," Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said.

Obama is no doubt enjoying a bump in support after his endorsement, and he revelled in the approval on Thursday night in Los Angeles, where he touched down for a star-studded fundraising gala hosted by Oscar-winner George Clooney that was expected to rake in about $15m for the campaign.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  gay rights  |  us elections 2012

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