Miller: GOP wants to run down gay marriage aisle

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Talk to just about any top Illinois Republican these days off the record, and they’ll freely admit they want the state bill legalizing gay marriage passed as soon as possible.

It’s not that they’re necessarily in favor of gay marriage, mind you. Many are publicly and privately opposed. Some do support it, even though they don’t feel they can vote for it because it might destroy their careers in the next GOP primary.

The reason so many Republicans would like to see the bill passed is because they know that with the huge, new Democratic majorities in both state legislative chambers, that it’s eventually going to pass anyway, and they want to get this issue out of the way and behind them as soon as possible. The issue is trending hard against the GOP’s historical opposition, and they want the thing off the table before it starts to hurt them.

Back in 2005, a statewide poll for the Illinois Policy Survey by Northern Illinois University found that 31 percent of Illinoisans supported gay marriage, an additional 34 percent backed civil unions, and 29 percent were opposed to any legal recognition. Five years later, in 2010, a poll by Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found little change in the public’s attitudes. Just 34 percent supported gay marriage, another 34 percent backed civil unions, and 27 percent said they wanted no legal recognition.

But then, things began changing fast. By 2012, the Paul Simon Institute’s annual poll had support for gay marriage at 44 percent – a big jump of 10 points. Opposition to all legal recognition was down to just 20 percent, while backing for the status quo – civil unions – was at 32 percent. A Public Policy Polling survey last month had support for gay marriage at 47 percent and opposition at 42 percent. Worse yet for the Republicans, 58 percent of people under age 45 backed gay marriage, while 37 percent were against. And 54 percent of women backed the idea, compared with 37 percent who were opposed.

Republicans, and Democrats for that matter, expect this trend to continue. By 2014, people figure that a solid majority of Illinoisans will support gay marriage. So the Republicans don’t want to be on the wrong side of yet another hot-button issue come the next statewide election.

Republicans also want the issue cleared away because they don’t want it coming up in their primary races. Except for things such as the state income tax hike, which was designed to be “temporary,” what’s done is usually considered done in politics.

The issue is causing some serious short-term divisiveness within the Republican Party. Social conservatives such as freshman state Sen. Jim Oberweis and former Congressman Joe Walsh have called for Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady’s head for publicly lobbying on behalf of the gay marriage bill. The quicker this thing gets resolved, goes the reasoning, the quicker the white-hot war will end and the quicker the party can move along to other, less divisive issues, such as taxes.

The Republicans want to make repealing the state’s income tax increase a centerpiece of the 2014 election. The tax hike is set to expire in January 2015, less than two months after the next election. But if the GOP gets too bogged down in too many social issues where they are on the “wrong” side of public opinion, they won’t stand much of a chance.

Anyway, that’s why Brady was sent out to walk the plank on the gay marriage issue earlier this month. Yes, he actually does personally support gay marriage, but he almost undoubtedly wouldn’t have gone so public with his support if party leaders were not encouraging him behind the scenes.

And the party’s top dogs, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and the two state GOP legislative leaders, want this thing taken care of so they can move beyond it, even though they may not actually vote for the bill when it gets to the floor. Senate GOP Leader Christine Radogno will be a “no” vote, for example, but she didn’t try to stop Brady when he checked in with her.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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