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Indeed, it's not. Less than 10 years ago, the last Republican who would go on to win the presidency traveled conservative America touting a series of "one man, one woman" state constitutional amendments. Now, as more than a dozen men and women plot paths to the GOP nomination, America's position on same-sex marriage has shifted—dramatically. Not only is it legal in most states for couples who are gay to marry, but most voters now support their right to do so—in one poll, by a 3-to-2 ratio.
But the task that day in Iowa wasn't to show Republicans how much has changed in a decade or to nudge them toward acceptance of those unions. It was to force them to concede that going neutral on gay marriage is critical to winning the White House. It was, very specifically, to persuade them to take a series of tactical steps that would ultimately see language opposing gay marriage wiped from the Republican Party platform in 2016.
This campaign, led by Jerri Ann Henry of the well-funded Washington-based Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, is at work in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, where advocates and volunteers are lobbying local party leaders, arguing on conservative talk radio, and hosting receptions like the one in Des Moines for politically active voters.
The argument they are making to skeptical Republicans is blunt: If the GOP's 2016 presidential nominee opposes gay marriage, he or she will lose to Hillary Clinton.
It marks a significant turn of events for a party whose uniform opposition to gay marriage has been the norm. "We went from having this monolithic appearance about the Republican Party, 'Oh, the Republican Party is against marriage equality,' to, well, here are activists who are meeting about marriage equality," Angelo says. "That's something new in the state."
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Perhaps more important, Angelo and Henry have begun drafting a list of potential convention delegates, who, with the presidential nominee, will write the 2016 GOP platform, a process normally dominated by conservatives. States have different rules for selecting delegates, but Henry is pressing major presidential candidates to commit that 20 percent of their delegates will be under 40 years old, an age group in which polls show a majority of Americans—even Republicans—support same-sex marriage.
Part of this effort includes direct outreach to the presidential candidates themselves: Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said his group has met with several campaigns to discuss gay marriage. (Tellingly, though, he wouldn't say which campaigns.)
Opponents of same-sex marriage know the assault is coming. Even foes such as the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins acknowledge that Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and its allies this year are better organized in this fight than his side. But it wouldn't be the first time that pro-gay-marriage Republicans have tried to soften or remove the party's platform position, only to be met with even stronger language.