In American politics today, there is a growing divide between political belief and religious belief that is best illustrated by the issue of same-sex marriage. According to polls, a majority of Americans support legal marriage rights for same-sex couples, but this acceptance has not spread from the realm of politics into religious spheres. In Christian groups (which are mostly conservative politically), LGBT equality issues are still opposed despite that fact that even politically conservative Republicans are beginning to show a shift in attitude. Looking at the situation as it is developing around same-sex marriage now, certain questions are being raised about the nature of religion and politics and how they interact or, as it is beginning to look like, do not mix at all.
It all starts with a shift in Republican views on same-sex marriage as reported by a Pew Research poll. According to these findings, 61 percent of Republican voters between the ages of 18 and 29 support the issue. Of voters between the ages of 30 and 49, 43 percent voice their support. The numbers are predictable lower for older voters over the age of 50. Two facts that come out of this report, then, are that older Republican voters still do not support same-sex marriage and younger voters who are largely considered the future of the Republican party overwhelmingly support it.
This is a huge shift for Republican party politics. If Republican candidates want to get elected, they very well may have to change their stance on LGBT equality to get those votes from the younger crowd. That is what seems to be happening at this time within the GOP. In Illinois and Nevada changes are already occurring. Illinois got rid of state party officials who did not agree with support for same-sex marriage and Nevada has taken the radical step of removing opposition to LGBT equality from its stated party platform. Both of these developments show that the winds of change are blowing not just among voters, but within the leadership of the Republican party as well.
Politically, the positive change on the issue of same-sex marriage is clear, but it does not translate over to the religious side of the issue which has for many years driven the party’s opposition. Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, talked about the inevitability of legalized same-sex marriage in the United States, commenting that perhaps there would be a need to prepare churches to accept this coming new reality. That simple statement of a need for adjustment, however, brought condemnation from many Christian quarters.
Moore’s comments were called “weak-kneed” and “defeatist” by critics as they emphasized the need for stringent opposition to same-sex marriage. One writer said that Moore was basically calling for Christians to accept “subjugation,” though he did not specify to what specifically. Support for LGBT equality does not at this time have a platform of making people accept its views, merely to allow for legal equality under civil law. The views expressed by Christian conservatives in response to Moore, however, seem to refer more to a culture war than to a legal battle.
One Christian writer on The Christian Post made the comparison to media coverage of same-sex marriage to the “Tokyo Rose” tactics of World War 2 in which Japanese radio hosts repeatedly told listeners and soldiers who were tuning in that fighting the war was foolish because the Japanese had already won. The creator of this analogy said that acceptance of same-sex marriage would be to desert a “war” that requires Christian conservatives to be “good soldiers” and “hold the line.” This would mean that people should ignore the reporting of statistics that show a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage overall and double down on the fight against legal equality for LGBT individuals.
With such calls to action and metaphorical arms going on in the Religious Right, the role that religion plays in conservative politics needs to be examined. Do conservative Christians control the Republican party and can they use it as a political platform for their agenda? Or is the Republican party stepping away from a religious influence in order to appeal to the changing views of its younger voters? At this point in time, it is looking like religion and politics do not mix for Republicans when it comes to the issue of same-sex marriage.
At last week’s New Hampshire Freedom Summit, Republican presidential hopefuls did not show the same religious fervor that candidates have historically displayed. In their speeches, social issues like same-sex marriage made no appearance as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul tried to drum up support for their prospective presidential bids. Even Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, did not discuss the issue in his speech.
When questions about same-sex marriage came from reporters, Rand Paul’s answer was startlingly moderate. While he affirmed his belief in God and support for traditional marriage, he emphasized federalism as the founding principle of the United States. His view on the issue of is that states should be allowed to decide that issue for themselves, a stance that effectively allows him not to state his own position on the issue. He also said in answer to questions that he saw litmus tests on candidates suitability as being arrogant, a refutation of the view that opposition to same-sex marriage is a necessary stance for any Republican candidate.
Republican candidates for office, then, are not showing the same focus on the issue that Christian conservatives have historically required. In fact, they are avoiding the issue as much as possible. The reason for this may be that they do not see opposition to same-sex marriage as being politically feasible if they want to get elected. For people whose professional hopes rest on the popularity contest of popular elections, strategy is key and a stridently conservative stance based largely in religious values does not look like a winning strategy to them.
Or at least that is one possibility. The other is that acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable as Russell Moore so inadvisably said. Instead of political strategy, these changes within the Republican party might actually show a substantive change in ideology that is increasingly incompatible with conservative Christianity. Republican politicians may see it as a losing battle and be jumping ship while conservative Christians are doubling down on. In that case, which side is actually the “Tokyo Rose?” Is it the media with its reports on polls? Or is it the conservative Christian Right which continues to say that fighting over same-sex marriage is a viable course?
Whatever the case may be, there is one aspect of the situation that does not fall within the realm of speculation. For the up-and-coming Republican presidential hopefuls, the issue of same-sex marriage is not something they want to tackle. It is not an issue that is going to win elections for them and, subsequently, they are steering as far away from it as they can. From this perspective, religion and politics are not part of the mix for Republicans on same-sex marriage and if things keep going the way they are going, they may never mix on this issue again.
Opinion By Lydia Webb