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Same-sex marriage a hot topic for GOP

Poll says 59 percent are not in favor of changing state law

POSTED: May 26, 2012 11:35 p.m.

Will Republicans ever embrace — or at least accept— formal unions between same-sex couples?

Jamie Ensley, president of the Georgia chapter of a group of gay Republicans, hopes so.

In fact, much of his work with the Log Cabin Republicans is “to help Republicans to recognize” that public opinion has changed on the issue “in favor of equality,” he said.

Over the past several weeks, the issue of allowing same-sex couples to marry has taken center stage in this election season.

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama came out with what he said was an evolving view on the issue, one that favors same-sex unions.

In the local race to represent Georgia’s new 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, the issue has reared its head as two of the candidates in the Republican primary try to define their conservative values.

A recent Gallup poll marked the first time that those supporting marriage between same-sex couples were in the majority. Some 53 percent of people polled responded that the law should recognize unions between same-sex couples with the same rights as heterosexuals.

The poll showed what Ensley said he’s known.

“The president would have never made this decision at this time if it were not in his best political interests,” he said.

Obama’s statements, according to Ensley, have repercussions for Republicans.

“The response of all Republicans candidates in this election cycle will determine the votes of millions of Americans who are simply tired of the culture wars,” Ensley said.

But the leader of the state chapter of the socially conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition says social issues are still “very important” to Republican voters.

Chris Perkins, executive director of the group, encourages candidates to “fully discuss” their views on the issue.

“I think this is still a very important issue with social conservatives,” Perkins said. “You can look and see how well former Sen. Rick Santorum did during the (Republican presidential) primaries. There is still a voice for social conservatives in the Republican Party.”

Georgians’ view on the issue doesn’t seem to match that of the rest of the country. More than 59 percent of the 600 state residents polled by Landmark Communications and Rosetta Stone aren’t in favor of changing state law to legalize same-sex marriages.

The poll, conducted for WSB-TV, showed that opposition had declined compared with a poll taken in 2004.

“The death of social conservatism, as I like to call it, shouldn’t be called for just yet, especially in a district like the 9th,” Perkins said.

One candidate in the race to represent the newly drawn 20-county district, state Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, has made repeated efforts to paint his perceived chief rival, Martha Zoller, on the wrong side of the issue.

In a letter to supporters earlier this month, Collins said Zoller had “challenged the sanctity of marriage,” an issue he said would be important in the July 31 primary.

“This campaign is about issues, and how to handle same-sex marriage is a colossal issue in our country right now,” Collins wrote to supporters. “Unfortunately Martha’s campaign rhetoric does not match that of her past.”

Collins’ campaign linked the letter to a 2009 script from an appearance Zoller made on CNN in which she said she did not advocate same-sex marriage, but “I do support civil unions.”

But Zoller says she supports the Defense of Marriage Act and a federal marriage amendment to declare marriage between a man and a woman. Yet she believes there are limits to what the federal government should be involved in when it comes to marriage.

In a recent interview, Zoller said that after the federal government defines marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, it should not be involved in governing contracts between two people.

It’s a view she says is one of less government and more freedom, not of support of same-sex marriage.

Ensley, a native of Blue Ridge, grew up in the 9th District, and he said he knows there are some voters he won’t be able to sway on the issue.

“There are going to be those on the far right that we will never change; we’ll never change hearts and minds for some people,” Ensley said. “You can’t teach a pig to sing: It wastes your time and annoys the pig. It’s the same with the far right. They’re not going to change their minds.”

But Ensley believes that young Republicans might be the game-changer for Georgia.

“With the younger generation coming up, it’s going to be a new world where they’re more accepting of people,” Ensley said. “There’s no issue with this with the majority of the young Republicans coming up.”

Otis Mark Pettitt, a former state chairman of the Georgia Teen Republicans, doesn’t agree.

“I think all Republicans, young and old, end up on the same side of this issue for the most part,” Pettitt said.

“Especially here in Georgia.”

To clarify, Pettitt said the side Republicans of all ages are on is one of opposition.

If Pettitt and Ensley agree on much about same-sex marriage, it’s that Obama’s statement steered the political discourse away from the economy, for the moment.

‘It was a nonissue until just a few weeks ago,” Pettitt, who until last week, managed the 9th District campaign of Hunter Bicknell, who decided to seek another office.

Both Pettitt and Ensley say there are more pressing issues for Republican candidates to discuss. They’ll take the economy and the tax code for starters.


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