The dam has broken. No matter what our opinions might be of it, gay marriage is becoming a fact of life. On the heels of recent decisions by either judges or legislatures in Hawaii, Oklahoma, Nevada, Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, Arkansas, Idaho and Oregon, a judge in Pennsylvania today struck down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. That’s the fourth court victory for gay marriage advocates just this month. And this one, complete with a long and forceful opinion, was issued by a Bush 43 appointee whose appointment to the federal bench was approved by none other than Rick Santorum. (Judge Jones also wrote a long and stirring opinion against teaching creationism in public schools in Kitzmiller v. Dover). That makes 19 states where gay marriage is either legal or has won a recent court victory.
There is simply no putting this genie back in the bottle. Some of those overturns may be reversed by higher courts. Some may be turned over to referendums again. But even those are unlikely to pass. As I said when the Republican Party was pushing a wave of anti-gay-marriage amendments in 2004, their urgency was because they could see that they were losing support. It was then or never. The tide stopped in 2012 when Minnesota turned back an amendment in a tough battle. Now it has turned and is roaring back out to sea. California’s Prop 8 would not pass now. Some of the redder states would be able to keep it illegal, but even there, support is crumbling. Within ten years, gays will be probably be able to marry almost everywhere in this country. Maybe even less. This issue is basically dead (although, as I argued with the Brendan Eich case, I would prefer that people not gloat about it).
There is one question that sill lingers in mind however: whether this issue will haunt the Republican Party down the road. I’ve spoken of this before:
Back in the 1970′s, the GOP stepped back from their previous support for civil rights to support the so-called “Southern Strategy”: an effort to woo segregationists from the Democrats. The idea was not to embrace segregation, per se, but to jump on racially sensitive issues like welfare to build a power base in the South.
While it managed to get a few politicians to defect (Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond), it never really helped their electoral prospects. In Presidential races, they won the whole country in 1972, lost the South in 1976 and 1980, won the whole country in 1984 and 1988, split the South in 1992 and 1996. It was only in the mid-90′s that the South turned and, by that point, no one gave a crap about segregation issues. The turn was over economic issues. And by 2008, Barack Obama was able to dominate the South in the primaries and compete in the general election, winning three states.
Just to clarify this point: the Republicans took the South because the South was always conservative. The only reason the South hadn’t voted Republican up until the 90′s was because of the Democratic Party’s century-long history of racist politics. Growing up in Atlanta, I knew people whose family had never voted Republican. When George Allen was elected to the Virginia legislature, he was one of only a handful of Republicans. When the South went red in 1994, Republicans were winning elections in Southern states for the first time since the Civil War. The South was always conservative. They were going to go Republican eventually. It was only Johnson’s management of the Wallace faction that kept it blue for so long.
However, the Southern Strategy did have one palpable effect: both on its own and through liberal harping about it, the Southern Strategy alienated black voters to the point where the GOP is lucky to poll in single digits. This is despite a fair amount of conservatism among blacks, who are heavily pro-life and pro-school choice. P.J. O’Rourke said that Clinton’s popularity among blacks was because he allowed them to vote for a Republican without throwing up.
In the 40′s and 50′s, Republicans routinely drew support among black voters in the 20-30% range. If that trend had continued, more than a few elections would have gone differently.
I’m afraid the GOP is going down the same path again with their stance on gay issues. The country is shifting rapidly on these issues, especially among young voters — much more rapidly than it did on racial issues. Huge majorities oppose DADT, including a majority of conservatives. Gay marriage is closing in on majority support and large majorities favor at least civil unions. And barring gay adoption or gay sex simply isn’t on the radar for any but the most ardent cultural conservatives. Yet the entire GOP field supports DADT and DOMA, most favor the Marriage Amendment and Santorum favors just about every anti-gay measure you can think of.
Some of this support is in name only — the FMA, for example, has zero change of happening. But their vocal support for these policies is going to come back to bite them and probably not too far in the future. As more gays come out of the closet, as more people have gay friends and relatives, as more gays get married and have kids and as the world fails to end despite this, people are going to remember where the GOP was on this. People with gay kids are going to remember that the Rick Santorum wanted to deny their in-laws and take away their grandkids. People whose lives were saved by gay soldiers will realize they would have died had DADT been in place.
We are going to pay for this crap. And we are going to pay and pay and pay (literally, given the spending habits of the Democrats).
My fears have only strengthened in the three years since I wrote those words. While a number of Republicans have broken ranks — showing much more political courage than any Democrats, incidentally — I still fear that gay marriage will go down in history as a faint echo of the Southern Strategy debacle. A faint echo because the Republican opposition was at least partially built on principle. It was clear in 2004 that many Republicans were uncomfortable with their gay marriage position (you may remember a leaked phone call where Bush talked about how much he disliked taking the position) and that this was, at least in part, a cold political calculus from Karl Rove who thought opposing gay marriage would win a tough election. But most of the opposition was a principled opposition to changing one of the pillars of our civilization.
(The echo should be even fainter because Democrats opposed gay marriage until it became politically safe not to. But Democrats are never held to any standard, let alone the ones that Republicans are held to. Republicans still get beat up over their short-lived Southern Strategy; Democrats are absolved from their century-long embrace of Jim Crow.)
Still, I think the analogy holds. It will not be forgotten that Republicans were the face of the opposition to gay marriage and that the remaining opposition is from Republicans. Will this hurt them enough to matter in an election? There are a lot fewer gays than there are blacks and they are not as unified electorally. But considering how close some elections have been, it’s entirely possible that this will hurt us down the road, especially as the young people who support gay marriage today become the political force of tomorrow.