Monday, May 14, 2012

ROUNDHOUSE ROUNDUP: Has a Wedge Issue Lost Its Edge?

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
May 13, 2012

I have this bad habit of starting my day off checking my email every morning on my iPhone before I even get out of bed.

So most mornings, the first thing I see are emails from the Republican National Committee blasting the president for, well, whatever they feel is blastable for that day. A frequent RNC favorite is “The Big Fail.”

So when I woke up Thursday, I thought I knew what to expect. This was the day after President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage, so I predicted something along the lines of “The Big Gay Fail.”

I was wrong. There was nothing. I almost was tempted to check the calendar to make sure this was a weekday. Later in the morning, the RNC sent a release attacking Obama over the economy, but nothing on gay marriage.

I have to think that this is just one little sign that recent polls are correct and attitudes about this issue really are changing. Perhaps the email I didn’t get says more than the ones I do.

Maybe there was another clue on Wednesday. I’d asked Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s spokesman for comment about Obama’s announcement. Scott Darnell said Martinez had “no particular reaction,” adding, “The governor has been very clear about where she stands on this issue.” (She’s said she’d veto any bill that would allow gay couples to enter into domestic partnerships.)

One way of looking at Martinez’s reaction could be, she hasn’t changed her mind, but she’s not going to dig herself in any deeper. Or maybe she doesn’t want to lose another hairdresser.

A few weeks ago, I talked to former Gov. Gary Johnson — once a Republican, now the Libertarian Party candidate for president — about gay marriage. Like Obama, he said his opinion on the matter has “evolved” through the years. Linda Siegle, a lobbyist for Equality New Mexico, told me last week that her group couldn’t even schedule a meeting with Johnson for years to talk about gay-rights issues.

But Johnson now is a vocal advocate for marriage equality — and in fact was blasting Obama for not embracing gay marriage the day before the president’s announcement.

It’s wrong to assume that all Republicans have a knee-jerk reaction against same-sex marriage.

The December Public Policy Polling survey that showed a plurality of New Mexicans supporting gay marriage also showed that 41 percent of Republicans in the state supported some kind of legal recognition of homosexual couples — civil unions or marriage.

And some of those Republicans live in Santa Fe. Two years ago, I did a column about the fact that the Santa Fe County GOP tried to get the state party to drop its opposition to gay marriage.

“Presently, the state Republican platform supports vigorous enforcement of Civil Rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, handicap, religion, and national origin,” a news release from the local Republicans said. “The Santa Fe County Party recommended adding sexual orientation to this list. ... The county party also showed their support of  ‘civil unions,’ ” the news release continued.

When I called then-county party Chairman Paul Morrison about this, he said, “Why are you surprised that Republicans would be in favor of equal rights?”

Of course, the state GOP overwhelmingly voted against these changes. And earlier this week state party Chairman Monty Newman reiterated his party’s opposition, calling Obama’s position a “political pander from our country’s campaigner-in-chief.”

But it should be noted: Newman was responding to my request for a response. The state GOP didn’t initiate the discussion to exploit a wedge issue.

Could it be the times really are changing?