Meet Ken Mehlman, lawyer, businessman, and Republican big shot. In 2004, he ran George W. Bush's re-election campaign, and from 2005-2007, he was chairman of the RNC. In 2010, he announced that he was gay.
Mehlman is on a mission. In an August 2010 interview with Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic, apart from coming out as gay for the first time, he also revealed his plans to be an advocate for gay rights within the GOP: "I will try... to persuade people... that [gay marriage] is consistent with our party's philosophy, whether it's the principle of individual freedom, or limited government, or encouraging adults who love each other and who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other to get married."
Given his prominence within the GOP, he has the capacity to carry out his mission. (In fact, Ambinder called him "the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.") Since 2010, Mehlman has been touring the country, making speeches and hosting benefits to raise money supporting the gay-marriage cause.
In 2012, Mehlman wrote a powerful op-ed persuading Republicans that gay marriage, like all marriages, "promotes responsibility, commitment and stability... [and] family values." He adds, "One of our party's finest hours was the passage of welfare reform because it strengthened families and promoted marriage. Why would we want to take this right from anyone?"
Mehlman has also been instrumental in recruiting donors to support gay marriage. In March 2012 it was reported that since coming out, Mehlman has "helped raise close to $3 million." We can definitely assume that thanks to Mehlman, donations have been increasing exponentially since then.
While Mehlman was not the first Republican to advocate for the cause of gay marriage, his efforts have certainly been a powerful catalyst, as he "fish[es] in waters where gay organizers had rarely gone before." He has made the issue of gay marriage no longer a taboo within the GOP. Even Paul Singer, chairman of the conservative Manhattan Institute, has donated more than $8 million to various same-sex marriage efforts, because "It's become something that gradually people like myself weren't afraid to fund, weren't afraid to speak out on... I'm somebody who is philosophically very conservative, and on this issue I thought that this really was important on the basis of liberty and actual family stability."
One may say that there were ulterior motives for Singer's support for gay marriage: He has a gay son who married his partner in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal. (This is similar to the Rob Portman case, in which the Republican senator from Ohio reversed his issue on gay marriage after his son came out as gay.) Whatever the reasons, the point is that more and more Republicans are supporting the cause, making the issue of gay marriage less and less of a taboo.
Then again, the increased support for gay marriage within the GOP does not mean that it will be introduced in the Republican agenda any time soon. While Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the RNC, said in 2010 that Mehlman's decision to come out as gay was "significant," he does not believe that the party's platform will change any time soon. "There are a lot of Republicans who are gay, there are a lot of Republicans who support government sanction of gay marriage," he observes, but the Republicans are "not single-issue voters." According to the New York Times, recent polls show roughly two-thirds of Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, but there is higher support for it among the under-30 crowd.
Like any controversial issue, one cannot expect the GOP to make a 180 and introduce gay rights to its agenda in the near future. But thanks to increased public support for gay marriage led by prominent Republicans such as Mehlman, Singer, and Portman, this is certainly a promising first step.