At a meeting of the National Governors Association in Tennessee this weekend, a handful of top-tier GOP governors and potential 2016 presidential aspirants made one thing abundantly clear: They really, really, really don't want to talk about same-sex marriage.
The Associated Press frames this as proof that GOPers have decided to "soften" their rhetoric about opposing marriage equality, but that's not really accurate. If that were true, we'd see examples of Republicans restating their usual talking points — that marriage is between a man and a woman, that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty, that it could hurt children by depriving them of a mother and a father, etc., — but doing so less stridently and with more tact. That's not what's happening here.
Rather, what the AP's report shows is that Republican governors, if asked about marriage equality, will practically trip over their own shoelaces in an attempt to transition to talking about something — anything — else.
"I don't think the Republican Party is fighting [same-sex marriage]," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is currently fighting same-sex marriage in his state, told the AP. "I'm not saying it's not important," the possible 2016 aspirant continued. "But Republicans haven't been talking about this. We've been talking about economic and fiscal issues. It's those on the left that are pushing it."
Sounding the same note, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said that he is "a religious conservative" and a Catholic, but that "the people of Iowa look to me to provide leadership in bringing good jobs and growing the Iowa economy." Translation: Let's talk about that stuff instead.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told the AP that while the issue was settled in his state (last year, Christie declined to appeal a judge's pro-SSM ruling) he believed that the overall society was still locked in debate. "Do I think it's resolved now? No," Christie said. "The overwhelming majority of states in the country still ban same-sex marriage, so I don't think it's time to stop having a discussion."
Technically, Christie is right in that marriage equality is only the law in 19 states. However, broken down by population, nearly half of all Americans live in a state where gay marriage is legal.
And when it comes to views of same-sex marriage for the entire American population, the numbers are even more encouraging for marriage equality proponents: A Gallup poll released in May saw approval of legalizing gay marriage reach an all-time high of 55 percent, with even roughly one third of Republicans approving.
Perhaps that explains the increasingly "softened" rhetoric coming from national figures in the Republican Party.