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Same-Sex Marriage Debate Headed to 2016 GOP Primaries

June 5, 2013 - 6:00pm

With the U.S. Supreme Court set to release a first-time ruling later this month on same-sex marriage, the stage is set for it to be a major issue in the 2016 presidential race.

Social and religious conservatives, who are generally opposed to same-sex marriage, continue to remain core voters for Republicans. They continue to remain major factors in Republican primaries.But these traditionalist voters are increasingly swimming against the tide as polls show more Americans accepting same-sex marriage. Bloomberg released a poll on Thursday, for example, which found a majority of those surveyed -- 52 percent -- support same-sex marriage while 41 percent oppose it.

There are signs that the issue will emerge as a major one in the Republican presidential primaries as more Republicans support same-sex marriage. This week, the national College Republicans informed the GOP faithful that continued opposition to same-sex marriage was driving away young voters.

There are also two potential Republican presidential candidates who support same-sex marriage -- and that number could increase as public perceptions rapidly change.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is increasingly looking like he is considering running for president in 2016 and he will be heading up to New Hampshire, home of the first presidential primary, later this month. With revelations that he has a gay son who helped change his position, Portman now supports same-sex marriage.

Portman is no lightweight and he ranks as one of the leading Republicans to support same-sex marriage. Coming from one of the largest swing states on the map, Portman received a good deal of attention as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney. While he was passed over for Paul Ryan, Portman does have a fairly impressive background, serving in the U.S. House for 12 years before joining President George W. Bushs administration as U.S. trade representative and director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). With his background, if Portman runs for the nomination, he should have a platform to make the case for same-sex marriage to his fellow Republicans.

The other possible Republican presidential candidate who backs same-sex marriage is Jon Huntsman. Well-regarded by the national media, the former Utah governor has left open the possibility of making a second bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Huntsman took to the pages of the American Conservative magazine earlier this year to argue that same-sex marriage and conservatism were not incompatible.

But Huntsman is facing the danger of being marginalized in the GOP. The former Utah governor underwhelmed when he ran for president in 2012 and he has been drifting away from conservative positions on a host of issues since he bowed out of the race to support Romney. With his service as Barack Obamas ambassador to China and constant buzz that he will leave the GOP, Huntsman will have a hard time being a major factor if he runs for the Republican nomination in 2016.

The rest of the Republican field generally stands for traditional marriage. Rick Santorum made the case against same-sex marriage constantly during his bid for the Republican nomination in 2012 and his social conservatism helped propel him to second behind Romney in the contest. All signs indicate that Santorum wants to run again in 2016. While, like Huntsman, he underwhelmed on the campaign trail, Rick Perry has left open the possibility of running again in 2016 and he remains a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage. Even Chris Christie from socially liberal New Jersey has vetoed legislation allowing same-sex marriage in the Garden State.

Still, things are starting to shift in the nation and in the GOP. If Portman or Huntsman makes a bid for the Republican nomination, expect this issue to be front and center during the procession of debates leading to the primaries.

Tallahassee freelance political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this piece exclusively for Sunshine State News.

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