Republicans have a generation gap when it comes to same-sex marriage, with younger members more likely to support gay matrimony while the older faction continues to rail against it.
And that internal struggle was never more obvious than it was on Wednesday, when the GOP argued to the Supreme Court that it should uphold the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman.
House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner spent millions in legal fees to defend DOMA before the court after the Obama administration refused to defend a law that was approved by a Republican Congress and signed by a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, in 1996.
But in the wake of devastating election results in November, some Republican leaders say it is time for the GOP to appear more welcoming to the views of those who believe same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus insists the GOP still endorses only heterosexual marriage, but the party's self-evaluation of what went wrong for Republicans in last year's election recommended that the party reach out to gay voters "and demonstrate that we care about them, too."
Days earlier, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a longtime opponent of gay marriage, announced a change of heart on the matter after his son disclosed that he is gay.
Polls show the public, particularly young people, are increasingly supportive of gay marriage and nine states have moved to legalize it.
"The GOP does have a virtually insoluble problem," Democratic strategist Doug Schoen told The Washington Examiner. "Their base of elder white men adamantly opposes [same-sex marriage]. And their target audience of younger people and libertarians increasingly support it, all the while the country moves inexorably to embrace it."
Justices on Wednesday listened to oral arguments from former Solicitor General Paul Clement, whom House Republican leaders hired to defend DOMA.
Boehner, however, made no public statements about the case, though his spokesman issued a statement saying the case was about defending the constitutionality of the DOMA law.
"As long as the Obama administration refuses to exercise its responsibility, we will," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
The GOP's stand on gay marriage is likely to be debated next month at the RNC's spring meeting in Los Angeles, where moderate Republicans will try to convince conservatives to soften their opposition to it.
Gary Bauer, a leading conservative voice within the party, said it would be a mistake for the GOP to alter its position on gay marriage and start supporting it.
Bauer, who is president of the nonprofit advocacy group American Values, said "the gap is huge" between the party's rank-and-file members and the Republican consultants and party elite who believe embracing gay marriage will make the GOP more popular with voters.
"If Washington, D.C., is generally out of touch with the American people," Bauer said, "then Republicans in Washington are at least that out of touch with the voters that empower them."