Gay rights supporters wage a quiet campaign to push Republicans to the middle

A softer GOP approach, they argue, would boost the party’s chances with young voters, women and centrist independents, all of whom tend to be supportive of gay rights and have drifted away from the party.

One poll-tested sound bite being suggested to candidates references the Golden Rule — to “treat others as we’d like to be treated, including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.” The line, according to a memo from a GOP polling firm hired to guide the campaign, wins support from 89 percent of Republican voters.

“The Republican image, unfortunately, is one in which we have an empathy gap,” Coleman said. “That impacts us across the board. An issue like this, which is about being against discrimination, feeds into the long-term future of the party. It addresses one of the negatives that we are facing today.”

Some pro-gay-rights Republicans point hopefully to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a case study of a GOP pol who seems to be looking for a politically viable approach. The governor, expected to easily win reelection next month, is close to Singer, though aides to both men declined to discuss their private conversations about the issue.