Same-sex marriage bans seem to be going the way of the Dodo with judges striking down bans as unconstitutional in states like Pennsylvania and Oregon. With this air of inevitability supposedly lingering around the issue, the truly interesting stories are fast becoming those which highlight Republican opposition and its losing battle. As the states increasingly move towards a rule of law that is equal for everyone regardless of orientation, conservatives in America are being forced to re-examine their views in light of high voter support for equal marriage and whether or not a hard-right, Tea Party conservative stance is sustainable in the current political climate. While this debate is ongoing, the issue of same-sex marriage is revealing the level to which Republicans have to twist their beliefs into pretzels in order to avoid a seemingly inevitable political fallout.
At its core, the Republican identity crisis is about what party leaders think they should stand for and the reality of what voters actually want. Perhaps nowhere is this dichotomy more obvious than on the issue of same-sex marriage. Just this year, support for equal marriage hit an all-time high, with almost 60 percent of the American people being pro-equal marriage. More importantly, voters have begun to support the Constitutional basis for equal marriage, as a recent poll shows that 50 percent of people believe that the United States Constitution gives same-sex couples the right to marry. When Republicans look at polls like these, there are two possibilities for their future: either all people who support same-sex marriage are not Republican or the Republican party has to re-examine its hardcore anti-marriage stance in order to appeal to those Republicans who do support it.
Neither option seems to have entered the party leaderships’ mind at this stage. At a recent leadership gathering, Republican conservatives doubled down on their anti-equal marriage stance, perhaps to the chagrin of many Republican candidates running for election right now. The party’s stance on same-sex marriage is increasingly unsustainable and Republicans running campaigns for office right now are keen to avoid the topic altogether. It is not a subject in which the hardcore-conservative stance of their party will win them votes. Nevertheless, they are constrained by party ideology from presenting, if not a pro-same-sex marriage stance, at least not a virulently opposed stance, which is leading some Republicans to simply ignore the issue when conducting their campaigns.
The exception to this new rule, however, is the judiciary. Republican appointed judges who by-and-large are considered to share the same conservative ideology have not felt bound to observe the limitations of their party’s stance on same-sex marriage and have avoided twisting themselves into political pretzel shapes. Michigan’s gay-marriage ban was struck down by a Ronald Reagan appointee. The judge who struck down the ban in Pennsylvania is U.S. District Judge John Jones, who was endorsed by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. In fact, Santorum gave a speech to the senate extolling Jones and arguing for his confirmation to the judiciary. Back in 2002, he said Jones was “highly qualified to assume the important role of Judge and the duty of protecting the Constitution.” It may be worth it to ask whether Rick Santorum still believes this in light of the news from Pennsylvania.
Some Republicans will no doubt continue to harp about “rogue judges” and will simply add Jones and others like him to the list of people not to trust, but there is another problem looming for the party, this time in the guise of some of their top donors. Wall Street, an area of business that is largely considered a conservative money tree, is showing signs of increased support for same-sex marriage at a distinctly personal level. An organization called Out on the Street has hosted a panel of high-powered executives who talked specifically about their own children who happen to be gay. Support born out of personal experience is a good step forward for business, but it seems to go even further than that. At the Out on the Street website, the quote on the front page comes from Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein and says, “LGBT equality is not only a civil rights issue it is also a business issue. To be successful, we must attract, retain and promote from the broadest pool of talent available. We are proud to partner with Out on the Street and its member companies to promote LGBT equality.” Even businesspeople have looked at their traditional opposition to same-sex marriage and have decided it was untenable.
What does that mean for the Republican party which depends on donations from such entities to fund their election campaigns? It is highly likely that funding will disappear if conservatives continue to cleave to their intractable opposition to a widely accepted cause. More than anything, going broke would spell the doom of the Republican party. Still, there are some who proudly (and perhaps foolishly) proclaim their staunch support in the face of a changing world. The CEO of conservative organization Heritage Action, Michael Needham was quoted as saying, “I’m terrified that Republicans will blow this election if they are not going to stand for something.” As it happens, Republicans do stand for something – continued opposition to gay marriage – but that might just be the wrong thing to stand for if they want to win an election.
The Pennsylvania decision to allow same-sex marriage was a landmark for supporters of this political cause, but it might just be the beginning of the end for Republicans who cannot abide such changes. Either the Republican party will have to soften their opposition and make it more palatable to voters, who for the most part accept gay marriage and support it, or they will go the way of the Anti-masonic Party or the Bull-Moose Party, both of which went extinct and have never been heard from again. In the meantime, the political pretzels that Republicans are having to twist themselves into in order to avoid the same-sex marriage issue is an indication of how bad things are going for the Republican party. If they are not careful, not even a chiropractor will be able to sort their knots out and the Democratic party might just eat them with cheese dip come election day.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury