Has the conservative base given up on gay marriage?

Marquee speakers during the first day of the Conservative Political Action Conference avoided the topic of gay rights, or alluded to it by mentioning things like Duck Dynasty, Chick-fil-A, and religious freedom. That’s a contrast from 2013, when a number of speakers mentioned their beliefs in more explicit terms. Marco Rubio of 2013 said, “Just because I believe that states should have the right to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot.” Marco Rubio in 2014 spoke largely of foreign policy and the American Dream.

Gay marriage could still come up at CPAC, but its not taking center stage thus far doesn’t mean that conservatives don’t largely oppose same-sex marriage. According to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll, 67 percent of self-identifying conservative Republicans oppose gay marriage; 53 percent strongly oppose it.

But it’s hard to say how that “strong opposition” translates into action. You can speak with CPAC attendees to get an idea of how activists feel about their party’s discourse on gay marriage, but even that is an imperfect measure. A number said they personally do not endorse same-sex marriage, but don’t want the GOP to focus on the issue, calling it a distraction. Others, particularly younger voters, voiced support for gay marriage while saying it’s a states-rights issue.

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