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Miller: GOP conservatives see handwriting on gay marriage

Updated: May 9, 2013 6:26AM



You can always tell when somebody is losing an argument because they’re constantly backtracking and recalibrating. And it’s no different with gay marriage.

In January, for instance, newly elected state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) freely admitted that gay marriage was at the heart of his desire to oust state Republican Chairman Pat Brady, who’d recently announced his support for a Senate bill to legalize same-sex marriage.

“I believe we have to have a meeting to ask Pat for an explanation, to modify his actions or get a new CEO,” Oberweis told the Kane County Chronicle then. “Our CEO has taken very open, public action contrary to the organization, and that’s unacceptable.”

Immediately, however, more moderate GOP leaders pushed back hard against Oberweis, saying that ousting the party’s chairman over gay marriage would send absolutely the wrong message to the voting public, which was coming around fast to supporting the issue.

Young people, in particular, count themselves as strong supporters of the concept, so staunchly advocating outdated policies would continue to stunt the party’s potential growth.

Oberweis didn’t give up his challenge to Brady. Far from it. Indeed, he apparently came within a weighted percentage point of the required 60 percent vote to oust Brady during a planned emergency state party meeting last month.

The meeting was canceled when some central committeemen decided to heed the commands of party leaders such as U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk and House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and backed off.

But while Oberweis didn’t drop his attempt to force Brady out, he did change his tune on the reasons. A month after saying it was all about gay marriage, Oberweis told Chicago Public Radio “it has nothing to do with gay marriage.”

That even a guy like Oberweis felt the need to drastically retool his public message shows how far this issue has come — and how even some on the hard social Right now understand that they have to walk a whole lot more softly or risk a voter backlash.

Since then, Republican leaders who want Brady ousted have kept a lid on their conservative colleagues’ inflammatory rhetoric and tried to focus their ire on Brady’s performance during last year’s election campaign.

Those objections ring hollow, however, because none of the state central committeemen uttered so much as a peep about Brady’s tenure during a post-election state party meeting in December.

This putsch is all about gay marriage, but the coup plotters at least have the sense to try and couch their terms in a more acceptable manner, which means that even they know they’ve lost the public debate.

State Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), a conservative Catholic who has long opposed gay marriage, has not taken a public position on Brady’s tenure.

Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who has moved further to the right since losing the 2010 GOP gubernatorial nomination to Bill Brady, is, like his former opponent, staunchly opposed to gay marriage. But like Sen. Brady, Dillard has refused to take a position on Chairman Brady’s support for the issue, leaving it up to the state central committee to decide whether he should remain as chairman.

None of this is meant to suggest that state Sens. Oberweis, Brady and Dillard are about to switch sides and support gay marriage, as Kirk did recently.

But it does suggest that even these hardened conservatives understand that they’re on the wrong side of this issue and must tiptoe around it for fear of damaging their political party.

Two years ago, it would’ve been considered impossible that an Illinois Republican chairman would so publicly support gay marriage. That, in and of itself, shows how far and how quickly public sentiment on the issue has changed.

But Pat Brady has always been a part of the party’s more moderate wing. I think what’s more important here is how even some of the state’s top social conservatives are moderating their public messaging on same-sex marriage.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.



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