American public opinion is in transition on the issue of the freedom to marry, and nowhere is that transition more apparent than within the Republican Party. In 1996, I was a high school student in socially conservative Southern Illinois knocking on doors for local Republican candidates. Listening to Christian radio, I can remember President Bill Clinton competing for the support of conservative voters by promoting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). While my political stripes haven’t changed in the intervening seventeen years, my understanding of the values of individual freedom, personal responsibility, and limited government at the heart of the GOP has deepened, as it has for millions of thoughtful Americans who have had the courage to change their mind on civil marriage and embrace their neighbors’ freedom as their own.
The meaning of citizenship as it applies to gay and lesbian Americans is dawning on all of us, as support for the freedom to marry has skyrocketed from 27% in 1996 to 58% today. More than fifteen million Republicans currently support the freedom to marry, while another twelve million are on their way there—backing civil unions. Together these pro-freedom Republicans comprise nearly 60% of the party. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 52% of Republicans under the age of 50 now support the legal right for same-sex couples to marry the person that they love. Support for the freedom to marry has increased dramatically among every demographic. And the most concerning statistic for the GOP is this—81% of 18-29 year-olds support marriage for all.
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