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1st District House candidate Innis one of 3 gay Republicans trying to make election history

  • FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2009 file photo, Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Tisei shakes hands with supporters  in Wakefield, Mass. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. Tisei, who is married to a man, is expected to run again for the northeastern Massachusetts congressional seat he narrowly lost in 2012 to Democratic Rep. John Tierney.  (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

    FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2009 file photo, Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Tisei shakes hands with supporters in Wakefield, Mass. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. Tisei, who is married to a man, is expected to run again for the northeastern Massachusetts congressional seat he narrowly lost in 2012 to Democratic Rep. John Tierney. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

  • FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, Carl DeMaio laughs during a city council meeting in San Diego. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. DeMaio is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. During his unsuccessful 2012 Republican mayoral campaign, DeMaio and his male partner of six years were booed as they walked hand-in-hand in San Diego’s gay pride parade. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

    FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, Carl DeMaio laughs during a city council meeting in San Diego. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. DeMaio is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. During his unsuccessful 2012 Republican mayoral campaign, DeMaio and his male partner of six years were booed as they walked hand-in-hand in San Diego’s gay pride parade. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

  • In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

  • FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2009 file photo, Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Tisei shakes hands with supporters  in Wakefield, Mass. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. Tisei, who is married to a man, is expected to run again for the northeastern Massachusetts congressional seat he narrowly lost in 2012 to Democratic Rep. John Tierney.  (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
  • FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2012 file photo, Carl DeMaio laughs during a city council meeting in San Diego. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage. DeMaio is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters. During his unsuccessful 2012 Republican mayoral campaign, DeMaio and his male partner of six years were booed as they walked hand-in-hand in San Diego’s gay pride parade. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
  • In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
  • In this Jan. 13, 2014 photo, New Hampshire Republican Congressional candidate Dan Innis, right, poses with his partner Doug Palardy, in Portsmouth, N.H. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to gay marriage has become less visible recently, however, as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests that most Americans support same-sex marriage.  (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

Dan Innis’s husband persuaded him to run for the U.S. House.

It didn’t matter that Innis, a former business school dean, faced an aggressive Democratic incumbent, GOP colleagues who oppose his right to marry, and history – no Republican ever has been openly gay when first elected to Congress.

“He said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’ ” recalled Innis, running in the 1st Congressional District, which covers most of eastern New Hampshire. “He said, ‘You need to take this opportunity and see if you can make a difference.’ ”

Innis plays down his sexuality as a campaign issue but acknowledges the historic undertones. He is among three openly gay Republicans nationwide expected to run in this year’s midterm elections. None has an easy path to Washington.

Each ultimately must unseat a Democratic incumbent, overcome brushes with hate and confront passionate divisions within the GOP about the way they live their lives. The Republican Party is trying to soften its tone on divisive social issues, but many religious conservatives see homosexuality as immoral.

Innis is married to a man, as is former Massachusetts state senator Richard Tisei, who is expected to run again for the northeastern Massachusetts congressional seat he narrowly lost in 2012 to Democratic Rep. John Tierney.

In San Diego, former Republican city councilman Carl DeMaio is challenging first-term Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.

“You can’t focus on any of the nasty comments or attacks – not just from far right, also from far left,” DeMaio said.

During his unsuccessful 2012 Republican mayoral campaign, DeMaio and his male partner of six years were booed as they walked hand in hand in San Diego’s gay pride parade.

“Every once in a while we’ll get some hate that is truly over the top – a truly venomous voicemail message. Every time we need a lift-me-up, we play it and chuckle,” DeMaio said. “It’s just a reminder that what we’re fighting for matters.”

He is fighting his own party, too. The GOP’s formal platform, as set in its 2012 national convention, declares that “marriage, the union of one man and one woman, must be upheld as the national standard.” Republican opposition to same-sex marriage has become less visible recently as the GOP works to improve its image and polling suggests most Americans support it.

Prominent social conservatives such as former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and Ralph Reed, former leader of the Christian Coalition, declined to be interviewed for this story.

As a senator in 2003, Santorum compared homosexual acts to child molestation and bestiality.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, drew national attention for pressuring the House Republican campaign arm not to support openly gay candidates. That led House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, to pledge public support for gay Republicans.

Boehner traveled to Massachusetts in 2012 to help raise money for Tisei, who notes that more than 70 members of Congress supported his last campaign.

There have been no openly gay Republicans in Congress since Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona retired in 2006. First elected in 1984, Kolbe didn’t disclose his sexual orientation until 1996.

Rep. Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin served more than a decade before a Republican colleague publicly disclosed Gunderson’s sexual orientation on the House floor in 1994. Gunderson did not seek re-election in 1996.

In New Hampshire, Innis is trying to unseat Democratic incumbent Carol Shea-Porter. But he must first survive a Republican primary contest against Frank Guinta, a former congressman unseated in the last election. With long ties to the business community, Innis is expected to have strong financial backing in an election he said will be decided on fiscal issues.

“The best history we could make would be moving the budget toward balance and getting ourselves to a position where we could invest in our future again,” he said.

New Hampshire GOP strategist Jamie Burnett said he doesn’t know whether candidates’ sexual orientation helps or hurts their electoral prospects.

“Some social conservatives might object, but many Republicans might not care at all and perhaps see it as softening the party’s image,” he said. “This is uncharted territory in recent New Hampshire Republican politics.”

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