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As more Americans and lawmakers accept same-sex marriage, the Republican Party increasingly will be divided over the issue, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said on Thursday.
"The Republican Party is going to be torn on this issue. The bulk of the party is going to be very resistant and is very supportive of traditional marriage, and parts of the party are going to flake off. Parties do that," Gingrich told a group of reporters at a breakfast meeting at National Review magazine's Washington, D.C., office. "The country is gradually evolving. The country is thinking this thing through. It creates complexities."
Gingrich made clear that he still believes civil marriage should be exclusively between one man and one woman, but he appeared open to the possibility that the definition could change in the future.
But the bigger issue, he said, concerned the future of religious liberty, which could be at risk if the nation changes its marriage laws.
"Those of us who are concerned about religious liberty have to figure out how we fight to ensure that you don't get this kind of tyranny of secularism, which I think is a very grave danger," Gingrich said, a reference to the possibility that churches that oppose same-sex marriage may be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
He also pointed to the recent decision by Health and Human Services to require religiously affiliated charities and organizations to provide health insurance that covers procedures that conflict with their faith's teachings. "I'm actually intrigued, as an historian, for how long this cycle will last, because if you look at the long history of Christianity and the long history of traditional religions, you know, things come and go. Overall, betting on the historic survival of the Bible has been a reasonably good bet now for several thousand years."
Although there has not been a tidal shift in the Republican Party over the issue, several key Republicans have recently announced their support for same-sex marriage. This year, two GOP senators, Ohio's Rob Portman and Illinois' Mark Kirk, reversed their long-held stances on the issue. On the other side of the aisle, all but seven Democratic senators have said they support the unions.
Last week the Supreme Court heard two cases concerning same-sex marriage: one that examined the constitutionality of a voter-approved ban in California and another over the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages conducted in states where it's legal. Gingrich predicted that the court would probably not make a sweeping ruling on either.
"If the court is wise, they will in fact take a very limited role and let this work itself out politically," Gingrich said. "This fight will keep evolving and, I think, become very different another day."
As for whether he plans to one day pursue the presidency again—he lost his bid for the Republican presidential nomination last year—Gingrich said he's leaving the possibility open. Whether or not he runs, Gingrich said he hopes to continue to play a role in mapping out the future of the party in his own way.
“I don’t rule it out, but we’re not spending any energy on" running, he said. "My instinct is that there will be a new generation of ideas and a new generation of candidates. That's my instinct. But, you know, I would like to be somebody who plays a role in developing a new generation of ideas."