Another Republican Tells GOP to Back Off Marriage Opposition

By Sunnivie Brydum

Originally published on Advocate.com June 23 2014 2:01 PM ET

Even self-described "traditional" Republicans know that the GOP has to move forward on accepting marriage equality to stay politically relevant, according to U.S. senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

"I'm pretty traditional guy, almost 60 years old," the Tea Party favorite told CNBC's Squawk Box this morning. "I think marriage is between a man and a woman. But again if the voters decide that they want gay marriage, I’m not going to oppose it.

ThinkProgress notes that Johnson has been a champion of far-right causes as recently as this Congress, signing on to cosponsor a bill that seeks a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, titled the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. He has frequently delivered speeches on the Senate floor lambasting the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and just last month published an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel focusing on the alleged cover-up of the attacks in Benghazi, Project VoteSmart reports

But as a hard-line Republican in a state that has not only voted for President Obama in the past two general elections but also sent the country's first out gay person to the U.S. Senate with Tammy Baldwin in 2012, Johnson seems aware that his views may be out of touch with those of the constituents he represents. 

To secure future electoral victories, Johnson told CNBC that Republicans should focus their rhetoric on communicating positions around foreign and economic policies. "Social issues," he said, "are going to primarily be decided in the states through [the] democratic process, and that's the way it should happen. … I'll certainly go with the judgment of the American people in terms of where they want to fall on, whether it's abortion issues or gay marriage or whatever."

Johnson is the latest in a growing line of Republicans to encourage his fellow party members to steer away from so-called divisive social issues, which usually includes passively accepting the inevitability of nationwide marriage equality. Earlier this month, staunch conservative Utah senator Orrin Hatch admitted that anyone who doesn't think the nation is on its way to universal marriage equality "isn't living in the real world," while the Republican candidate for governor in Massachusetts is running a campaign ad downplaying a decade of marriage equality in the state as "no big deal." Ohio's Rob Portman became the first Republican U.S. senator to formally endorse same-sex marriage last March, reportedly moved on the issue by son coming out to his family.