The Republican Party has a longstanding reputation for homophobia—which is fitting, given that the vast majority of Republican legislators strive ceaselessly to demean and disadvantage gay people across America.
But the near-uniformity of opinion among Republican representatives obscures an increasingly vocal insurgent faction in the GOP: pro-gay young Republicans. This camp has been in existence for a while—the New York Times even ran a trend-ish piece on them last year—but only recently have they begun to exercise visible influence on their party. The latest evidence of their ascendance comes, of all places, out of Alabama, where controversy arose after the president of the state’s College Republican Federation, Stephanie Petelos, implied her support of marriage equality. In response, the Republican Executive Committee of Alabama considered a proposal to censure her by proscribing any member of the state’s Republican steering committee from publicly opposing the committee’s resolutions.
Because the committee has previously resolved to oppose same-sex marriage, the proposal, if passed, would have effectively expelled Petelos from the state’s Republican apparatus. Instead, however, the committee resoundingly rejected the measure, allowing Petelos to remain while giving the green light to other state Republicans to declare their support of gay rights.
The executive committee’s decision isn’t just good news for gay people—it’s also good news for Republicans. Everyone who isn’t blinded by homophobia knows that the GOP is going to have to change its position on gay rights at some point. The equation is simple: In a country where an ever-growing majority of voters support the rights of gay people, it’s hard to win elections by retreating into anti-gay vitriol. In the short term, the anti-gay strategy obviously maintains some currency. But in the long term, it’s clearly a nonstarter.
So where does that swerve toward tolerance begin? With people like Stephanie Petelos. 51 percent of Republicans under the age of 30 support at least state-level marriage equality. That’s just a shade under the 53 percent of Americans who support same-sex marriage, and only a bit above the 49 percent of nationwide Republicans who advocate for gay equality. Clearly, there’s a sea change under way, one that might reverberate throughout the party at large as early as 2016. For now, that shift will remain largely invisible, as Republican elders squeeze every last ounce of support out of their traditional anti-gay stance.