As you might recall, I believe there is a message for the Republican Party on same-sex marriage in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decisive reelection last week. Supporting marriage equality is not anathema to conservatism and won’t hurt you at the polls. Turns out, David Frum of the Atlantic agrees.
“Center-right leaders are in charge of every one of America’s closest English-speaking allies,” he writes. The conservative parties in those allied nations, he notes, “have updated for the 21st century their core message of respect for family, work, and community.” Frum adds, “All have accepted gay equality, with Australia on the verge of a parliamentary vote to permit same-sex marriage.….”
During an interview with me on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki” last weekend, I asked Frum if the GOP should be striving for the “compassionate conservatism” of his former boss, President George W. Bush. His answer was the most succinct diagnosis of what ails the Republican Party and how to cure it.
I don’t care what you call it, whether you call it “modern” or “compassionate.” But you need a conservatism that makes its peace with the actual changes that have come to the society. The point is to govern the society you have, not the society you imagine you once had or wish you might have in the future. You were elected by the voters of today. And one of the great conservative virtues is realism and to take people as they are.
The Texas move to bar the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is a prime example of a conservatism that has not made peace with the actual changes that have come to society. As are the so-called religious freedom laws that use scripture to hide flagrant prejudices behind God’s grace. But there are plenty of people in the GOP trying to change the party on same-sex marriage.
Much has been written about the deep-pocketed Republicans like Paul Singer who are dropping huge sums of money on pro-gay candidates. There are the national Republican operatives like Ken Mehlman working behind-the-scenes to secure legal and legislative victories. And then there are the millennials. Citing a 2014 Pew Research Center poll in an op-ed for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, a Virginia group called NextGen GOP notes that “61 percent of Republicans under 30 favor same-sex marriage.”
Those crazy kids are hosting “An Open Conversation about Gay Marriage” event on May 20 in Arlington, Va. Bravo to them. They and others will drag the Republican Party into the 21st century on marriage equality — eventually. It’s a pity something so vital to the GOP’s future involves so much kicking and screaming.
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