WASHINGTON — Sometimes in politics, you have to listen for what's not being said to understand where things really stand. In the 2012 presidential campaign, the telling — and comforting — silence involves same-sex marriage and gay rights.
Think about it: In 1992, Pat Buchanan, speaking at the Republican convention in Houston, warned that Bill Clinton wanted to impose a “homosexual rights” agenda on America.
In 2004, Republicans engineered ballot initiatives against same-sex marriage in 11 states, hoping to bolster George W. Bush's re-election chances by spurring conservatives to go to the polls.
Flash forward to 2012. President Obama pushed to lift the ban on gays serving openly in the military, undoing the “don't ask/don't tell” policy put in place by the last Democratic president. He instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, also signed into law by President Clinton. Obama completed his slow evolution on same-sex marriage and came out in support.
The platform approved at the Democratic convention included a plank supporting same-sex marriage. Last week, Obama urged voters to back initiatives in Maryland, Maine and Washington state to allow gay couples to marry.
If this is exacting a political price, it's hard to discern. Republicans and their nominee, Mitt Romney, have not raised the subject — not at the convention, not on the campaign trail, not during the debates.
“It just shows how different the politics are, and how profoundly the center of gravity on the freedom to marry has shifted,” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry. Gay rights and the right to marry, he noted, “used to be something Republicans campaigned on and Democrats wanted to be on the right side but didn't want to talk about it. Now it's the exact opposite because a majority of the country favors it and a majority of independents favor it.”
The Republican Party hasn't transformed itself — far from it. The party platform calls for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Romney has signed a pledge from the National Organization for Marriage to back the amendment and support DOMA.