The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The inevitable trend toward gay marriage

The Post reports that in the wake of the Supreme Court’s rulings earlier this year, as Republican pro- and anti-gay marriage forces continue their battle over same-sex marriage, “a powerful group of Republican donors, who see the GOP’s staunch opposition to gay rights as a major problem, is trying to push the party toward a more welcoming middle ground — where candidates who oppose marriage rights can do so without seeming hateful.” While anti-gay marriage groups pound away, threatening dire consequences in the primaries should politicianss evidence movement toward the center on this issue, their more savvy opponents take a different course:

A softer GOP approach, they argue, would boost the party’s chances with young voters, women and centrist independents, all of whom tend to be supportive of gay rights and have drifted away from the party.
One poll-tested sound bite being suggested to candidates references the Golden Rule — to “treat others as we’d like to be treated, including gay, lesbian and transgender Americans.” The line, according to a memo from a GOP polling firm hired to guide the campaign, wins support from 89 percent of Republican voters.

Good to know the Golden Rule still polls well.  (For Republicans, it’s a good reminder that human empathy is popular; mean-spiritedness is not.)

Nevertheless, all this seems to ignore the dog that didn’t bark. In this case that dog was the usual howls of protest and pretend-outrage that generally greet pro-gay marriage decisions. In the case of New Jersey, the order to compel the state to move forward on gay marriage without delay did not garner outsized attention. The grudging acceptance that either by court action or public referendum we are steadily moving toward acceptance of gay marriage in more states makes the political tug-of-war seem somewhat beside the point. Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to drop an appeal of the ruling to the Supreme Court was another sign of recognition that the train had left the station, as of 12:01 a.m. when gay marriages began.

This is in large part a direct result of the Supreme Court’s position staked out this summer, which was shaky on legal consistency but ultimately gave us a constitutionally and politically satisfying result: Leave it to the states. As one after another state by legislation, court decision or referendum decides to accept gay marriage, it becomes increasingly difficult for anti-gay marriage forces to mount a challenge on every legal and political development in each of these states. That is the advantage of an approach grounded in federalism; states move at different paces and opposition is defused, while progress toward wide acceptance of gay marriage is inexorable.

This is not to say Republicans are of one mind. (According to the Post article, “New data being circulated by the campaign show that a clear majority of Republicans back [a]workplace anti-discrimination law. In contrast, though support for same-sex marriage has been rising among GOP voters, it remains a minority view in the party’s electorate.”) But we also know the issue is generational and younger voters simply don’t have the same antipathy toward gay marriage as do older voters.

As each new state adopts gay marriage, it becomes preposterous for national politicians to argue we should have a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. There simply aren’t enough states to ratify it even if it could get through Congress.

In 2016 we therefore can imagine that all GOP presidential candidates will have a similar position: They may be personally against gay marriage, but they will respect the decisions of states, although favor the definition be changed by popular as opposed to judicial action. There may be variation on that theme. It is one driven not necessarily by donors or pro-marriage advocates, but by political and cultural reality. And, as the government shutdown reminded us, a reality-based Republican Party is preferable to one operating in fantasyland.