The New York State Senate has voted to legalize gay marriage, a major milestone for the gay rights movement in several respects. After Governor Andrew Cuomo signs the bill into law, New York will become the sixth and most populous state to legalize gay marriage. It is also significant that this law was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature, with four Republicans joining a near-unanimous Democratic caucus. There is more bipartisan support around this issue than ever before.

If you are a Republican supporting gay marriage, you are no longer a maverick. You are actually in the company of some very influential party leaders and commentators. In fact, support for gay marriage makes a surprisingly strong showing among former members of George W. Bush's administration, including former first lady Laura Bush, former vice president Dick Cheney and former solicitor general Ted Olson, who was part of the legal team that brought a successful challenge to California's Proposition 8 that banned same-sex marriage.

One of the most vocal Republican supporters of gay marriage is Ken Mehlman, the former head of the Republican National Committee. In an interview with Big Think, Mehlman argued the New York law was supported by a majority of New Yorkers—Republicans, Democrats and independents. "What is most significant," he said, "is how public opinion is moving on this issue. Part of this movement involves increasing numbers of Republicans and conservatives who recognize it is consistent with core Republican and conservative values such as maximizing freedom, strengthening families and promoting family values, and following the Golden Rule."

We asked Mehlman if we are starting to see a bipartisan consensus emerge around this issue. Mehlman said:

We are definitely moving in that direction, and growing support for equal rights under the law generally. The movement is partially driven by demographics (younger voters are most supportive), but support is growing among all age groups. Ronald Reagan used to say that most important issues in our country are decided around the dinner table. What he meant was that people decide issues based on their own life experiences, by what they see every day. Over the past generation, more Americans have come to realize that they have a family member or friend who happens to be gay. And they increasingly believe that their friend or relative should have equal rights under the law, including the right to marry the person they love.  Also important has been a growing chorus of influential voices, including conservatives and Republicans, as well as athletes, community leaders, and others who have argued that freedom to marry is consistent with deeply held American values like freedom, equality before the law and the Golden Rule.

Watch a video of Mehlman discussing the gay marriage debate in Republican circles, here: