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Newt Gingrich evolves on marriage equality

WASHINGTON – In an interview with the Huffington Post, former Republican presidential candidate and House Speaker Newt Gingrich made remarks indicating he and other GOP leaders should embrace civil marriage equality – the latest sign of powerful momentum for LGBT equality this year.

Gingrich served as Speaker of the House in 1996, when the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed into law.

In the article, Gingrich contended that Republicans need to pay attention to public opinion on marriage equality. Gingrich, a Catholic, reaffirmed his belief that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman, but admitted that he was OK with civil ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples who want to marry.

"I think that this will be much more difficult than immigration for conservatism to come to grips with," he said, noting that the debate's dynamics had changed after state referenda began resulting in the legalization of same-sex marriage. "It is in every family. It is in every community. The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to ... accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states -- and it will be more after 2014 -- gay relationships will be legal, period."

Stepping back from the political, Gingrich noted that he has a personal stake in the gay marriage debate. His half-sister works at the Human Rights Campaign. He has gay friends who've gotten married in Iowa. The man who once compared same-sex marriage to paganism is now worried that the Republican Party could find itself trapped in a bygone era on the matter.

"I didn't think that was inevitable 10 or 15 years ago, when we passed the Defense of Marriage Act," he said. "It didn't seem at the time to be anything like as big a wave of change as we are now seeing."

Gingrich’s “evolution” drew the attention of the Human Rights Campaign and its president, Chad Griffin.

“Newt Gingrich reflects the experience that has changed the minds of so many Americans in understanding that LGBT people are a part of every family and community – including his own,” Griffin said. “His evolution resonates with people on a very personal level and is a quintessential example of why momentum is on the side of equality.”

Gingrich is just the latest of those who once opposed marriage equality to evolve to a position of supporting the rights of gay and lesbian couples to marry. David Blankenhorn, the star witness against marriage equality in the Proposition 8 case, has had a similar change of heart. As another sign of progress, the Mormon Church, which was the largest funder of Prop 8, sat out this election cycle and remained silent in the four victorious marriage fights.

In addition to last month’s marriage victories at the polls, Americans are continuing to demonstrate their support for equality in overwhelming numbers. In fact, support for marriage has increased 21% in just eight years – a remarkable shift in public opinion over a short period of time. As more LGBT people share their personal stories, Americans – including an increasing number of Republicans like Gingrich – are joining the ranks of equality supporters. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, former First Lady Laura Bush, former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Ted Olson, former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, and Paul Singer are among those in the GOP who support marriage equality.

“Gingrich’s recognition that Americans now overwhelmingly support marriage equality draws a sharp contrast with the few extremists continuing to fight against equality,” Griffin said. “Gingrich’s comments give other Republican leaders the room to do the right thing and embrace marriage equality – which is reflective of the fundamental conservative principles of freedom and individual liberty. The six million LGBT people who voted this election cycle, along with the decisive victories we secured across the board, make clear the direction in which our country is heading.”