Could the GOP Nominee in 2016 be a Supporter of Gay Marriage?

Too soon, say some party insiders. I would agree with that assessment simply because a large number of Republicans who oppose gay marriage do so out of religious conviction and there is little chance of their position "evolving" anytime soon.

Karl Rove disagrees:

In an appearance on Sunday's edition of ABC's "This Week," Rove was asked by host George Stephanopoulos whether he could "imagine" the next GOP presidential candidate saying they are flat out for gay marriage.

"I could," Rove said.

Some Republican strategists are not convinced change will happen that quickly. John Weaver, manager of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman's 2012 presidential run, told HuffPost last week that four years from now is too soon.

"Will we have a candidate who gets there?," Weaver asked. "Yes. Will it be in 2016? No."

On the flip side, one Republican voice believes the marker has already been crossed. Stu Stevens, a senior adviser for 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, told HuffPost Monday that Dick Cheney's role as George W. Bush's running mate fulfilled "that moment." Cheney's daughter Mary is a lesbian.

"I mean, for heaven's sake, Cheney was on stage at the RNC Convention with Heather and Mary, and on the front page of The New York Times, Heather was referred to as Mary Cheney's 'friend,'" Stevens said. "It's not just about the Republican Party, it's about the culture."

Strategist Ann Navarro thinks the evolutionary process of changing GOP minds on gay marriage is well underway:

"There's no putting this genie back in the bottle. This is now undeniable. The shift is here. We're not going back," Navarro, a CNN contributor, said on CNN"s "State of the Union." "I do feel an evolution and a shift, a small change albeit in the Republican party. People who maybe a few years ago were saying hell no we won't go there are now saying it should be states rights. They're talking about it in a different way. The people who are taking about it in a very strident way are now a minority."

Citing a recent swath of polls that show support for gay marriage climbing to unprecedented highs, Navarro added the rhetoric within the Republican party has changed "tremendously."

"We're no longer saying that people who are pro traditional marriage are bigots, and we're also not saying that people who are like me, a Republican that is for gay marriage, is less of a Republican," she said. "There's now much more room with in that tent. It may not look at it, but it is."

Well, Navarro doesn't get around too much if she actually thinks that some in the party don't accuse GOP gay marriage supporters of being "less of a Republican."

No matter. What might be possible by 2016 is a shift in emphasis on gay marriage to making it a matter of states' rights rather than a federal issue. Rand Paul is pushing that notion forward:

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested Sunday he wouldn't mind if the Supreme Court struck down "the federalization part" of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) when it takes up the issue this week, since he believes the issue should be left up to the states.

"I've always said that the states have the right to decide," Paul, who opposes gay marriage, said on "Fox News Sunday."

DOMA, the federal 1996 law, defines marriage as between one man and one woman. So does a 2004 amendment to Kentucky's state constitution.

"I do believe in traditional marriage, Kentucky has decided it, and I don't think the federal government should tell us otherwise," Paul said. "I don't want the government promoting something I don't believe in, but I also don't mind if the government tries to be neutral on the issue." matter. What might be possible by 2016 is a shift in emphasis on gay marriage to making it a matter of states' rights rather than a federal issue. Rand Paul is pushing that notion forward:

According to a Pew Research poll taken in December, only 27% of Republicans support gay marriage. The most recent Washington Post/ABC News poll from last week show 34% support for gay marriage among Republicans. It is doubtful those numbers will flip anytime soon. The GOP will be a reliably anti-gay marriage party for 2016 and beyond.