POLITICS: White House

White House expects political gains from gay-marriage focus

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Photo - Megan McGraw, 24, of Dunmore, Pa. left, and Kristi Greider, 24, of Scranton, Pa. take part during a Scranton Candlelight Vigil for Marriage Equality in advance of the Supreme Court DOMA decision held on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at the Lackawanna County Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/The Scranton Times-Tribune, Butch Comegys)
Megan McGraw, 24, of Dunmore, Pa. left, and Kristi Greider, 24, of Scranton, Pa. take part during a Scranton Candlelight Vigil for Marriage Equality in advance of the Supreme Court DOMA decision held on Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at the Lackawanna County Courthouse Square in downtown Scranton, Pa. (AP Photo/The Scranton Times-Tribune, Butch Comegys)
Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on same-sex marriage, President Obama is likely to squeeze the issue for maximum political juice as the White House points to a "transformation" in public acceptance of same-sex nuptials.

Administration officials wouldn't predict how the court would rule on California's same-sex marriage ban, which justices took up Tuesday, or the Defense of Marriage Act, which they will hear Wednesday.

Emboldened by recent same-sex marriage endorsements from red-state Democrats and a handful of prominent Republicans, however, a president notoriously guarded about his self-described evolution on gay matrimony now sees the issue as more of a political gift than an albatross.

"We believe that the president is on the right side of history," one administration official told The Washington Examiner. "So yeah, the president won't have any hesitance to discuss [same-sex marriage] whenever he sees fit. If anything, it helped him in November."

Former President George W. Bush in 2004 used opposition to gay marriage as a wedge issue to rally conservative support during a difficult re-election campaign. But now Democrats say that equation has flipped and they plan to concentrate extensively on gay rights ahead of the 2014 congressional midterm elections.

Polls show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, but the public also is far more concerned about the economy than social issues, potentially limiting the impact any White House campaign on gay marriage may have.

The degree to which Obama will focus on same-sex nuptials in coming weeks and months remains unclear. But included Tuesday on the president's Twitter account, run by the advocacy group Organizing for Action, was a call for "marriage equality for all."

"President Obama and the American people are ready to turn the page on marriage equality," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in an email to supporters.

In recent days, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., were among those who publicly declared their support for same-sex marriage. But perhaps even more influential was the conversion of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio -- the first sitting GOP senator to back gay nuptials.

Portman made the surprise announcement after revealing that one of his sons was gay. In doing so, he joined other prominent conservatives such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, first lady Laura Bush and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman in favor of gay marriage.

Other Republicans who remain opposed to gay marriage, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., have softened their language, hoping to turn the issue into a states-rights argument.

And some conservative strategists advised the GOP to transform its message on gay issues -- or risk losing out on a generation of younger voters more likely to embrace same-sex marriage.

"Millennials are poised to dominate the electorate," said Republican pollster Alex Lundry, who conducted surveys for Project Right Side, a conservative group that supports gay rights. "They outnumber baby boomers by 10 million people."

Some analysts, however, said Republicans shouldn't be so eager to change the party's stance on gay marriage.

"Redefining marriage ... makes other marital norms optional and sabotages the reason for marriage policy: to ensure that relationships that could result in children are permanent and monogamous to provide children with a mom and a dad," said Ryan Anderson, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation.

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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