Steve Chapman

Given the growing sentiment in favor of equality for gays, the Republican Party might seem to have two choices: Get in line or get beat. In fact, there is every reason to think that for the foreseeable future, the GOP will continue to reject gay rights -- and ample grounds, alas, to think it can do so without any real political penalty.

One reason is that most people who support same-sex marriage usually wouldn't vote Republican anyway. So Republicans need to make sure they retain their appeal to those (45 percent of Americans) who oppose it.

Another is that in many of the states where the GOP is strongest, gay rights are far less popular than they are nationally. In Texas, same-sex marriage gets only 30 percent support. In Utah, it's 22 percent. The states that provide it, by contrast, are mostly places where Democrats flourish, like Vermont and Massachusetts.

It's safe to assume that gay marriage will continue to spread in the coming decades, and it's safe to assume that opponents will not be able to get a constitutional amendment. But it's also safe to assume that many or most states will continue to forbid it. Connecticut and Iowa are one thing. Alabama and Arizona are another.

The other thing Republicans have going for them is that most people don't base their votes on this single issue. In the 2010 elections, 31 percent of gays voted for GOP congressional candidates.

Why? Because they place greater importance on other issues. Voting for a candidate is like choosing a cable TV package: Just because it's the best of the options doesn't mean you like everything it includes.

The recent emergence of a majority that favors same-sex marriage constitutes a turning point. So did the battle of Gettysburg -- and at that moment, the Civil War was only about half over. The outcome of the gay-rights fight may be discernible on the horizon, but there's a lot of fighting ahead.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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