WASHINGTON — Gay marriage legalization in several states and the public's growing acceptance of same-sex unions have Democrats sensing political opportunity and some Republicans re-evaluating their party's hard-line opposition to an issue that long has rallied its base.
In recent weeks, Vermont and Iowa have legalized same-sex marriage, while New York, Maine and New Hampshire have taken steps in that direction. Polls show younger Americans are far are more tolerant on the issue than are older generations. For now at least, the public is much more focused on the troubled economy and two wars than on social issues.
In addition, over the past decade, public acceptance of gay marriage has changed dramatically.
A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that a majority of people questioned, by a 55-38 percent margin, oppose gay marriage. But it also found that people, by a 57-38 percent margin, support civil unions that would provide marriage-like rights for same-sex couples, indicating a shift toward more acceptance.
With congressional elections next year, Republicans, Democrats and nonpartisan analysts say the changes benefit Democrats, whose bedrock liberals favor gay unions, and disadvantage Republicans, whose conservative base insists that marriage be solely between a man and a woman. Democrats have a broader base filled with more accepting younger voters, as well as flexibility on the issue. Hard-core liberals support gay marriage, while others, including President Barack Obama, take a more moderate position of civil unions and defer to states on gay marriage.
Conversely, the GOP base is older, smaller and more conservative. Republicans have no place to shift on the issue but to the left, because the party has been identified largely with its rock-solid opposition to gay marriage and civil unions...