A Gallup poll taken in 1968, the year after the Loving v. Virginia ruling that legalized interracial marriage in all 50 states, found that only 20 percent of those polled agreed with the decision. Gallup’s most recent poll on same-sex marriage, taken before Obergefell v. Hodges legalized equal marriage nationally, found that 60 percent of Americans believe straight and LGBT couples deserve the same rights.
But if you poll the more than a dozen Republican candidates for president, they’re even less ready for marriage equality than America was for interracial marriage. A total of 0 percent of GOP presidential contenders joined the rainbow-swathed celebration that has inspired much of America since Friday.
Yet the Supreme Court’s landmark decision was great news for Republicans, several of them told The New York Times.
“The stage is now cleared for the next generation of issues,” said ex-George W. Bush speechwriter and coiner of “Axis of Evil” David Frum. “And Republicans can say, ‘Whether you’re gay, black or a recent migrant to our country, we are going to welcome you as a fully cherished member of our coalition.”
Apparently, Frum didn’t notice the sudden rise of Donald Trump — who calls himself a supporter of traditional marriages, though it would be more appropriate to call him a collector of them. The billionaire’s “immigrants are rapists” platform has helped him catch fire in the GOP primary.
Wishful thinking like Frum’s is key to the “miracle” performance Republicans will need with minorities. His happy fantasy would also stop the party’s hemorrhaging of young voters, who see same-sex marriage being pretty much as controversial as whether you should be allowed to unlock your own smartphone.
But even the two candidates who issued the mildest rebukes to the Supreme Court — Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — hinted that the party’s unwillingness to move past lost culture-war battles will continue into 2016. Here are 5 reasons same-sex marriage as an issue won’t go away soon.
1. GOP primary voters still oppose it.
Change doesn’t usually come this fast, as FiveThirtyEight‘s Nate Silver explained. And so far it hasn’t come to the GOP.
About 6 out of 10 Republican voters oppose same-sex marriage, which makes it the mirror opposite of the rest of the country. Support for expanding the institution has doubled among evangelicals since 2001, but with 62 percent of Protestant evangelicals opposing it, the GOP base is in the era of Loving not Obergefell at the dawn of the most competitive GOP primary in generations.
It’s going to be tough to ignore a small but loud minority of the party that thinks 6/26 was their 9/11.
2. GOP candidates only differ on their degree of outrage.
“I’m glad I’m not on a campaign and don’t have to advise my candidate on how to navigate those three issues this week, because the answers for the primary and the general [elections] are radically different,” Republican strategist Carl Forti told the Times.
It’s pretty obvious who is playing to the primary on this issue.
Ted Cruz wants clerks to refuse to issue marriage certificates. Bobby Jindal wants to get rid of the Supreme Court. Scott Walker wants a constitutional amendment that will allow states to ban same-sex marriage again. Mike Huckabee appears to be calling for armed revolution. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” he wrote on his website. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”
But Republican candidates’ problem is that they generally agree on most every issue. They just disagree on the amount of outrage to sputter.
Jeb Bush’s opposition to the ruling concluded, “In a country as diverse as ours, good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.” Even that doesn’t mean he can let the issue go, however. He’s just trying to move the argument toward “religious liberty,” which is the right’s ugly new excuse for legal discrimination.
3. “Religious liberty” is a dogwhistle with some English on it.
In a nation where interracial couples and divorcees have been marrying for centuries, the argument of “religious liberty” never before arose to allow private businesses to deny couples their services. And no religious leader has been ever asked to perform a marriage s/he does not sanction. But apparently LGBT Americans are so offensive that new exemptions need to be invoked to protect “people of faith” from getting any gay on them.
Using exemptions designed to protect individuals from having to violate their own practice of their faith, conservatives now want religious people to have the right to discriminate based on their judgment of their customers’ moral behavior.
Jeb Bush has strengthened his position in the primary by focusing on this issue, accusing Hillary Clinton of wanting to limit religious belief because she backs policies that — for instance — wouldn’t allow ISIS to sell Yazidi women in Iraq into sexual slavery.
Republicans — some of whom quickly joined cries to remove the Confederate flag after Charleston — get that they need radically better outreach to minorities in this election. Many of them believe that minorities will adopt this “religious liberty” message, an echo of the 2004 Bush campaign against same-sex marriage that saw the party do better with minorities than it has since.
4. Scott Walker (or Mike Huckabee) could win the GOP nomination.
So with Bush, Rubio and other “moderate”-seeming candidates like Carly Fiorina, we’ll be having a veiled discussion on marriage through the lens of religion. But if any of the other contenders win (which I doubt), marriage will absolutely be a front-and-center issue in the presidential campaign.
If a high-profile case of a fundamentalist baker being — gasp! — paid to bake a cake for a gay couple flares up, every Republican nominee will be forced to speak out on the issue. With the base already keeping Bush and Rubio on a short leash for sometimes, in some ways, backing immigration reform, both will have to respond fiercely — a reaction off-putting to many of the 60 percent of Americans happy with marriage equality.
5. Dead-end causes built the conservative movement.
The mythology of the conservative movement is that opposition to abortion helped galvanize the religious right. But Randall Balmer argues that the neural network of the Moral Majority was formed in opposition to desegregation, especially in religious schools. (Expect religious schools wanting to keep both their tax exemptions and their policies discriminating against gay couples to be near the hot center of the right’s frustrations for the next few years.) Either way, opposition to Supreme Court rulings has nourished the hard right and allowed the Republican Party to move further away from the center, even as America steadily becomes more liberal.
If the GOP nominee loses without making marriage an issue, you can bet Christian conservatives will forever argue that that’s why he or she lost. And will vow never to make that mistake again.
Photo: sushique via Flickr