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Iowa Caucuses To Force Republican Decision On LGBT Equality

May 23, 2011 5:40 pm ET by Carlos Maza

The 2012 GOP presidential caucuses in Iowa will soon highlight the growing divide between anti-gay social conservatives and the majority of Americans that now support same-sex marriage. 

Traditionally thought of as an important predictor of which Republican candidate will win the party primary, the Iowa Republican caucuses have become dominated by right-wing and anti-gay social conservatives in recent years.

During the May 20 edition of her MSNBC show, Rachel Maddow broke down the Iowa Republican caucuses’ transition “from a national proving ground into kind of a strange backwater”:

MADDOW: When it comes to electing a president, Iowa as a state cherishes its first-in-the-nation-role. But in recent years Iowa Republican caucuses have been so hijacked by single issue anti-gay politics and religious fundamentalists that Iowa is sort of becoming an irrelevant sideshow in the presidential race rather than being a bellwether… Winning Iowa has no predictive value anymore.

The extreme, anti-gay nature of the Iowa caucuses puts Republican presidential hopefuls in a tight and uncomfortable position. On one hand, they understand that in order to win in Iowa they’ll need to appeal to right-wing social conservatives. Candidates like Rep. Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich have had no qualms with flying their anti-gay colors.

On the other hand, they aren’t oblivious to the fact that poll after poll is now finding that a majority of Americans support full marriage equality. Bashing the LGBT community may be a safe way to ensure victory in Republican primaries, but that approach is likely to backfire in a general election. As the public continues to evolve on same-sex marriage, Republicans will increasingly feel the pressure to walk the line on controversial social issues.

Moreover, some Republicans may begin experiencing significant pressure from within their own party to move away from anti-gay politics. A recent poll found that a slim majority of Republicans now say they support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.

The number of pro-equality Republicans is likely to grow as younger generations of conservatives, which have consistently been more LGBT-friendly than their predecessors, enter the political mainstream.

This trend was clearly on display in Minnesota earlier this month when Madeline Koch, a straight Republican, testified in opposition to a bill that would pave the way for a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. During her testimony, Koch argued that voting for such a measure would take the party “in the wrong direction for future generations of Republicans.”

Iowa, then, is an opportunity to see how Republican hopefuls (and perhaps Republican leadership in general) continue to deal with the demands of a group of extreme, anti-gay conservatives that has become increasingly marginalized both in the general public and within the GOP.

The party’s future electoral success hangs in the balance. While the GOP appear comfortable sticking to their anti-gay guns for this election cycle, it may only be a matter of time before prominent Republican candidates starting cutting their losses and avoiding Iowa altogether.


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