Led by Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, and Maine Sen. Susan Collins- the campaign to find Republican votes in the Senate to protect same-sex and interracial marriages in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the federal right to an abortion was part of a monthslong bipartisan effort.
They found that attitudes have changed in the decade since many openly campaigned against gay marriage, partially because of the increasing numbers of people tied to Senators — daughters, sons, friends, staffers — were openly gay and in relationships and marriages. They found that one of the biggest hurdles was a concern over religious liberty and so crafted an amendment to help address that concern and in turn had dozens of religious groups announce their support of the bill.
But the work outside the Senate was as important as the work inside.
As the senators organized inside, groups of influential Republicans who were supportive organized on the outside. Key to that effort were Ken Mehlman, a former Republican National Committee chairman and campaign manager for former President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, and a group that he is funding, Centerline.
Focusing on senators in nine states, the group conducted state polls, drove local press coverage, organized telephone campaigns and put together more than 70 meetings with senators and staff. The group circulated a list of 430 prominent Republicans and conservatives who supported the legislation, including former senators and Cabinet officials.
Mehlman says the campaign was based on data and polling showing an increasing support for gay marriage. More than two-thirds of the public now supports the unions.
“Center-right voters are supportive of the freedom to marry, and those numbers have increased in recent years,” Mehlman says. “Voters are supportive and often ahead of politicians on these questions.”