Right Turn has made the point repeatedly that the issue of gay marriage is a generational one, a battle that social conservatives have lost. That was crystal clear yesterday. Maine, Minnesota, Washington and Maryland handled gay marriage the right way in a democracy — proponents went to the voters, made their case and won the support of a majority of their fellow citizens. Minnesota rejected a ban on gay marriage; the other states acted affirmatively to approve it. Conservatives can have no principled opposition to a exercise of democracy that embodies the principles of federalism.
Add to that the election of Tammy Baldwin, the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the U.S. military and you have a sea change. Conservatives can make their case at the state level and can in principled fashion insist that voters, not appointed judges, make the decision, but as a national issue there is no other way to put it: The ship has sailed.
In fairness to Mitt Romney, he never once use gay marriage to stir up his base, evidence of his innate decency and, if one is more politically cynical, the lack of political mileage to be gained from the issue. In the future, Republicans for national office would do well to recognize reality. The American people have changed their minds on the issue and fighting this one is political flat-earthism. As with divorce, one need not favor it, but to run against it is folly, especially for national politicians who need to appeal to a diverse electorate.
Conservatives don’t have to like gay marriage. But they campaign on it at their own risk. Holding onto an issue on which the federal government has precious little to say anyway is as foolish as opining on rape, abortion and God in a two-minute debate answer. Opposition to gay marriage by national officials is a political loser, which conveys to a majority of voters an out-of-touchness and lack of inclusiveness. It deprives Republicans of support from the gay community and makes it that much more difficult to reach out to young, urbanized voters.
Conservatives need to figure out in the weeks, months and years ahead what is central to their pro-freedom, pro-opportunity philosophy. From our vantage point, opposing a democratically derived consensus on marriage (which has always been a state issue) doesn’t make the cut. Conservatives counsel that we should be cognizant of the culture we find and respect the habits, morals and values of our fellow citizens. In 21st-century America, that means conceding voters can define marriage as they like. There are many issues far closer to core conservative beliefs (protection of the unborn, school choice, rates of illegitimacy) that require their attention.
We can argue whether the issue was ever “winnable” for social conservatives. I would argue not, that the inexorable tide of greater inclusion in American politics made the shift in outlook inevitable. It is nevertheless a reminder for conservatives who feel differently that those who shape the culture generally shape politics.