LAWRENCE: Strategist: GOP should accept same sex marriage

If the Republican Party wants to stay relevant, it has to choose — either to expand to become more inclusive to gain new supporters, or to contract and become less accepting of differing points o

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   If the Republican Party wants to stay relevant, it has to choose — either to expand to become more inclusive to gain new supporters, or to contract and become less accepting of differing points of view.
   And if the Republican Party chooses to expand so that it can attract more voters, it should start by changing its stance on the notion of marriage to acknowledge that two people who love each other should be able to marry — even if they are of the same sex.
   That was the message delivered by Steve Schmidt, who served as the senior adviser to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and who was one of the top strategists during President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
   New Jersey now recognizes the right of two people of the same sex to marry, and it is one of more than a dozen states to allow marriage equality, Mr. Schmidt told about 50 people at Rider University last week. He spoke at the invitation of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, as part of its ongoing “Governing New Jersey” series.
   The right to marry the person one loves is a “fundamental issue,” Mr. Schmidt said. He cited the Declaration of Independence, which “holds these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
   ”That is our American creed,” he said.
   All people are free to pursue happiness, and a fulfilling marriage is one of those avenues. It is a fundamental issue of right and wrong, and one in which no one should be “disenfranchised” from being able to have such a relationship, he said.
   Mr. Schmidt said the Republican Party was conceived in the notion of freedom. Going back to its founding, the party has always stood for individual freedom and the dignity of human beings, he said. That’s why he supports marriage equality “not in spite of my conservatism, but because of it,” he said.
   Marriage is a stabilizing force, Mr. Schmidt said, and he wants to see more people married and not fewer. The support for marriage equality — allowing same sex couples to marry — is growing, and even conservative U.S. senators, such as Sen. Robert Portman of Illinois, support marriage equality, he added.
   Support for marriage equality is a matter of generations, Mr. Schmidt said. Among people younger than 40 years old, support for same-sex marriage cuts across political lines — Republicans as well as Democrats favor it, he said.
   ”Politicians as a species have a highly tuned instinct for self-preservation,” Mr. Schmidt said. That’s why more politicians favor marriage equality. It’s a good way to get more votes, although that support can “cut the other way” and cost votes, he said.
   Nevertheless, it’s “only a matter of time until you can marry the person you want. It might not be 2016 but 2020, when you’ll see the Republican presidential candidate support marriage equality. Marriage equality is moving down the track rapidly,” he said.
   ”You will see progress continue until every state joins together (and allows for marriage equality). This is fundamental to the Republican Party’s ability to compete as a national party,” he said, adding that the party must take steps to be inclusive of diverse groups and not alienate any group, because it will spill over onto other potential voters.
   Commenting on the recent gubernatorial election, Mr. Schmidt — who grew up in New Jersey — said it was the first time in a long time that a Republican governor in a Democratic state not only won the election overwhelmingly, but also performed well with a diverse group of voters that ranged from women to Latinos to blacks. Gov. Christie’s success is emblematic of the expanding Republican Party, not the contracting model of the party, he said.
   While the Republican Party may have its difficulties, the Democratic Party also has its issues, Mr. Schmidt said.
   ”The defining issue of our time is the collapse of trust in every area except the military,” he said. What unites virtually everyone in the United States is the disdain they hold for Congress, he said, noting that “when you live outside (of Washington, D.C.), you see the debacle unfolding (of the Affordable Care Act).”
   President Obama’s repeated pledge that people who liked their health insurance plan and their doctors could keep them “will go down among the biggest broken political promises in the history of the country,” Mr. Schmidt said.
   He also called the glitches in the ObamaCare website “the early stages of collapse of a program” that sought to take over one-sixth of the national economy. No one has read the law or understands it, and while individuals have lost their health insurance plans, “wait until (employees) find out they have been kicked off of their (employers’ health insurance plans),” he said.
   ”Government intrusion presents an enormous opportunity for the Republican Party to offer a solution around a real problem,” Mr. Schmidt said.
   The Affordable Care Act is not a badly intentioned law, but it does not work, he said, noting that “liberals have a fundamental inability to distinguish between intention and results.”