Hold on. A Ga. Republican backs gay marriage?

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In the race to replace U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Republicans who want the job have turned the primary into a sprint to the anti-gay right. Except for this one guy.

Former auto mechanic Art Gardner, one of seven Republicans seeking the nomination, made his position crystal clear on Saturday during a GOP debate in Macon, according to WMAZ.

Most of candidates staked out the conservative position on most issues, but Art Gardner says he supports same sex marriage and a woman's right to choose. He says while Republicans have strong fiscal policy, their positions on social issues alienate younger voters.

Gardner is even more blunt on his campaign website.

As a consistent Conservative, I advocate for smaller government and less government intrusion into our lives. The federal government is too big, wields too much power, and is too involved in so-called "culture wars". Curbing rights of Americans is wrong, and that includes the right of gay Americans to marry or a woman's right to exercise control over her own body. We should be wary of federal attempts to curb personal liberty.

Gardner's support of gay marriage is pleasantly surprising in a primary filled with gay baiting conservatives proudly proclaiming their anti-gay bigotry. It's even more refreshing when you consider that Gardner's support of same-sex marriage outpaces that of Michelle Nunn, the leading Democrat in the race whose nuanced position on the issue is troubling. (Underdog Democratic challenger Branko Radulovack fully backs gay marriage.)

Gardner also isn't shy about discussing his backing of gay marriage, explaining his views in an interview last month with United Liberty.

UL: Do you support gay marriage? Or do you just think  government shouldn’t be involved in the equation at all?

Gardner: I support gay marriage. I think that they should have the right to get married, just like I have the right to get married. They want to get married and suffer divorce like everybody else has to risk, then why not?

So yes, what I said Saturday night at the debate in Kennesaw is that our Pledge of Allegiance concludes with a promise of liberty and justice for all. Not for some, not for most, not for the people that think like I think or like you think, but for all. And so if you believe in those words, and I believe in those words, then that means that everybody’s got rights. And to me, gay Americans are Americans first, gay second. And they’ve got rights. And I can’t justify taking away their rights because they’re gay.

Why is Gardner so vocal on an issue that his opponents froth over? To stop driving people away from the Republican Party, he says.

UL: Well, if you promise to keep my taxes down, keep spending down, and protect my civil liberties, I don’t really care where you went to school. Anyway, so you’ve been pretty vocal in proposing a vision for the Republican Party that doesn’t drive away people. I recall in the first debate last month, you said something like, “social issues don’t matter.” Is that a winning strategy in a Republican primary?

Gardner: I didn’t say it that way. It remains to see how well I do in this primary. I think I’m gonna win. But the message that I’m trying to put out there is, look, the party has been dominated by a fairly vocal, small subset of the party who have pushed the needle to the hard right on social issues. They’ve forced the party to take certain stances on lots of social issues like gay marriage, abortion, immigration, lots of things like that, that have had the effect of driving away from the party lots of women, lots of minorities, gay people obviously, and it’s really been a big turn-off for young people.

Even if you, yourself, as say a 25 year old, don’t fit into any of those categories, you’re just a white male who happens to be 25, you don’t understand why folks are taking those stances, and it’s sort of a turn off. And it’s really pushed a lot of people away from the party.

So what I’m trying to do, is I’m trying to get the Party to move from hard-right to right-center. If we can do just that, and really focus on governance and get away from these hard-right stances on social issues, then that will automatically attract young people, will attract women in greater numbers to the party, minorities, it will bring gays back to the party, and the party will thrive and prosper.

If we don’t do that, if we don’t return to Reagan’s big-tent party, then the danger is we’re going to start losing a lot of elections. And I think you’re seeing that in the last presidential cycle. We won’t be an effective deterrent to the Democrat agenda. And if that’s the way it plays out, then we’re all in real trouble, because the Democrats will run us into the ground with their fairly socialist approach to governance. It’s very dangerous.

So we’ve got to get the people on the hard-right on social issues to say, look, I don’t agree with Art on the social stuff, but I agree with him on everything else. And if I can vote for him, that’s the winning coalition that will attract enough people that we can ensure that Michelle Nunn never gets into office.


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