The Reaction John Kasich Got For Accepting Gay Marriage Shows How Far The GOP Has Come

Just four years ago, GOP debate audiences were cheering for something very different.

WASHINGTON -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich drew applause during Thursday’s Republican presidential debate for saying that he accepted gay marriage even though it was counter to his “traditional” views.

“Our court has ruled and I said we’ll accept it,” Kasich said in response to a question from moderator Megyn Kelly about what he would do if his child were homosexual. “And guess what? I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who is gay."

The remarks were a departure from Kasich's past stance on same-sex marriage. As a U.S. congressman, he voted for the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Kasich has said that as a man of faith, he doesn’t approve of the “gay lifestyle,” and supported a ban on same-sex marriage in Ohio.

But on Thursday, Kasich invoked his faith as a reason to accept marriage equality. "Just because they don’t think the same way doesn’t mean we shouldn’t love them,” he said. “That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith."

The crowd cheered Kasich’s response. The reaction contrasted starkly with a 2011 Republican presidential debate in which audience members booed Army Capt. Stephen Hill, a gay combat veteran, for speaking favorably about the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

“In 2010 when I was deployed to Iraq, I had to lie about who I was because I was a gay soldier, and I didn’t want to lose my job,” Hill said via videoconference during the debate. “My question is, under one of your presidencies, do you intend to circumvent the progress that’s been made for gay and lesbian soldiers in the military?”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum responded to Hill by vowing to reinstate the ban on being openly gay in the military. “What we’re doing is playing social experimentation with our military right now, and that’s tragic,” he said, prompting cheers from the crowd.

“The military’s job is to do one thing, and that is to defend our country,” Santorum continued. “I believe this undermines that ability.”

Also on HuffPost:

Fox News GOP Debates Aug. 6, 2015

The headline and text of this story have been updated to more accurately reflect Kasich's comments and to provide additional context about his views on marriage equality.

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