July 12, 2012 at 10:18 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Freedom to Marry launches campaign to bolster same-sex marriage support among conservatives

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) (Official U.S. Congressional Portrait)

Freedom to Marry on Tuesday formally launched a new campaign designed to bolster support of nuptials for same-sex couples among conservatives.

Members of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry will work to pass state laws that allow same-sex marriage and lobby lawmakers on Capitol Hill to support a bill that would repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. The campaign also seeks to highlight conservatives who can effectively discuss marriage rights for gays and lesbians in the media.

“I am a conservative and as a conservative I believe in limited government and limited government isn’t something that takes rights away from our friends and family,” said Craig Stowell, Republican co-chair of Standing Up for New Hampshire Families, at the campaign’s kick-off event at the Capitol Hill Club in Southeast Washington. “The government shouldn’t be managing the personal lives of any decent law abiding citizen in any state.”

Tyler Deaton of the New Hampshire Young Republicans and New Hampshire Republicans for Freedom and Equality; Nicole Neily, vice president of Dezenhall Resources, former Republican National Convention staffer Madeline Koch, Sarah Longwell of the D.C. communications firm Berman and Company, Torrey Shearer and Will Rinehart were the members of the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry Leadership Committee also attended the D.C. event. CNN commentator Margaret Hoover is also a member of the campaign’s leadership committee.

Stowell, a former Marine, became emotional as he discussed the struggles he said his gay brother Calvin experienced growing up.

“There were nights that I worried that he wouldn’t be around when I woke up in the morning, but you know what, he pulled through it and he has always been there for me,” he said. “When I got married, he was my best man. And when I had a daughter, he stepped up to be the godfather. And I want to be able to be there for him in those moments in life.”

Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who is the only GOP sponsor of the DOMA repeal bill — the Respect for Marriage Act — also spoke.

“This is more than just about sexual orientation, it’s about the fundamental rights that we all share as Americans,” she said. “It’s bad enough we have to deal with the over-regulation of our economy. No one should have to deal with the government red tape when it comes to committing themselves to those whom they love. So with your help, our country will indeed continue on its path towards that most perfect union for each and every one of us.”

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in March showed that support for marriage rights for same-sex couples among Republicans has grown by 41 percent since 2009. A survey that ABC News and the Washington Post conducted shortly after President Obama publicly backed nuptials for gays and lesbians in May indicated that 46 percent of self-identified Republicans between 18-44 support same-sex marriage.

Stowell and others pointed to the 119 Republicans in the New Hampshire House who voted against a bill in March that would have struck down the state’s same-sex marriage law as further proof that support for this issue continues to grow. “We worked hard to preach our values of the state that freedom means freedom for everyone and that 2,000 loving and committed gay and lesbian couples that married in our state only makes it stronger,” Stowell told the Blade. “We made the case strongly. Our opponents invested millions of dollars, but you know what, we beat them overwhelmingly in a Republican super-majority by a 2-1 margin. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Ros-Lehtinen, who has a transgender son, told the Blade that she remains optimistic that Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry and other efforts will spur more of her GOP colleagues to support the repeal of DOMA and back relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

“It’s a whole new image for Republicans and we’ve got to win the hearts and minds of the next generation,” she stressed. “The Republicans can’t be the party of middle age and beyond.”

R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, shared a similar view.

“There’s now compelling data to prove that this is an issue that we’re going to win on,” he said, referring to polls that continue to indicate support for marriage rights for same-sex couples among younger Republicans in particular continues to grow. “If we don’t move forward on this particular issue within the conservative ranks within the Republican Party, it will have a diminishing effect on the party.”

Robert Kabel, chair of the D.C. Republican Committee, and Robert Turner, II, president of the D.C. Chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, were also among those who attended the campaign kick-off event.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • Same sex marriage has been a big topic lately.
    Personally I don’t think it really matter if both persons are deeply in love. We live in a free country, thus we should always respect each other..just hope this won;t become a huge political topic.

    Publisher, BridesmaidJewelrySetsv.com

  • DOMA is Defense of Marriage Act not Respect For Marriage Act

  • So why isn’t Freedom to Marry supporting same-sex marriage in Maryland? If same-sex marriage fails it will be cause groups like Freedom to Marry didn’t donate resources to the effort to pass it.

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