MARRIAGE NEWS: Former McCain strategist Steve Schmidt backs 'gay marriage'
WASHINGTON (BP)--Steve Schmidt, chief strategist for Sen. John McCain during the presidential election last year, says he backs "gay marriage." He also acknowledges voting against California Proposition 8 and believes the Republican Party should change its tune on the issue.
Schmidt, who was in charge of day-to-day operations of the Arizona senator's campaign, was featured prominently in the news last fall, with Newsweek even calling him "the man behind McCain."
Schmidt discussed his support for "gay marriage" during an interview with the Washington Blade, a homosexual newspaper. He said having a lesbian sister shaped his views.
"I'm personally supportive of [marriage] equality for gay couples and I believe that it will happen over time," he told the newspaper. "I think that more and more Americans are insistent that, at a minimum, gay couples should be treated with respect and when they see a political party trying to stigmatize a group of people who are hardworking, who play by the rules, who raise decent families, they're troubled by it."
Schmidt said he's "never agreed 100 percent with any candidate" he's worked for, including McCain, who not only opposed "gay marriage" but also publicly backed Prop 8, which defined marriage in state law as the union of one man and one woman. Schmidt is a citizen of California.
"It wasn't my place in the campaign to debate issues with him that he had a firm opinion on," Schmidt told the newspaper. "But ... as a voter, I'm not carrying my candidate's proxy into the ballot box, I'm voting my conscience."
He predicted Prop 8 will be overturned by another initiative in the "next few years." He also said that when he worked on California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's re-election campaign in 2006, he urged the governor to sign a bill that would legalize "gay marriage." Schwarzenegger, though, vetoed it. (Schwarzenegger now backs "gay marriage.")
"I think the Republican Party should not be seen by a broad majority of the electorate as focused with singularity on issues like gay marriage," Schmidt said. "The attitudes of voters about gay marriage and about domestic partnership benefits for gay couples are changing very rapidly and for voters under the age of 30, they are completely disconnected from what has been Republican orthodoxy on these issues."
Social conservative leaders, though, have argued that the issue is a winning one for politicians. The 30 states that have adopted constitutional marriage amendments have passed them by an average margin of 68-32 percent.
The economy, Schmidt said, cost his former boss the election.
"Once the economy collapsed, we had a very, very difficult task and in fact it turned out to be impossible," he said. "The day that Lehman Brothers collapsed, the McCain campaign was still roughly three points ahead, but that moment forward, [it] never went back into the lead."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.