Why Same-Sex Marriage Is a Victory for the Republican Party (And Everyone Else Too)
On Friday June 26th 2015, the Supreme Court made a 5-4 decision in support of same-sex marriage in a day that will be remembered by all. For supporters of same-sex marriage, the Obergefell v. Hodges decision was a moment of huge triumph as it struck down the ban on gay marriage and allowed same-sex couples to get married in all 50 states. For conservatives, the decision was a moment of calamity with many republican leaders nationwide questioning why 5 lawyers (interestingly, many critiques referred to the Justices as lawyers instead of their title of Supreme Court Justices) were dictating a decision that infringed on the religious freedom of conservative American Christians and that such a decision should be up to the states and not the federal government. Some conservative leaders like Bob Vander Plaats of The Family Leader went on to say that this landmark ruling would be like the Roe v. Wade decision that protected abortion in that the ruling would not put the issue to rest, and would in fact only intensify the debate.
Since it is election season, it was only natural for the football team-sized group of Republican candidates to share their views on the landmark decision. Mike Huckabee stated after the decision that he would not “acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch.” Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision “will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker emphasized that “the only alternative left for the American people is to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.” Other candidates like Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio took a more tempered approach in that they would respect the decision but seek the protection of religious liberties for Christian Americans. Rand Paul, in an op-ed penned in Time, argued that government should get out of the marriage business altogether.
Despite all of the opposition to the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, the Supreme Court essentially handed the Republican Party a huge victory. This victory is not necessarily for the current GOP but for the Republican Party of 2020 and beyond. The reason for this victory is simple: American views on same-sex marriage have changed dramatically in recent years. Many polls find that a majority of Americans support gay marriage with the Pew Research Center finding that 57% of Americans support same-sex marriage while a Washington Post-ABC poll found as many as 61% of Americans support the rights for same-sex couples to marry. This support is even more significant with younger generations as Pew also found that 73% of Millennials favor same-sex marriage.
More significant for Republicans though is the fact that research has also indicated that 61% of young Republicans aged 18 to 29 also favor same–sex marriage. Should this trend continue, the future Republican Party’s views will be very different on gay marriage in the future, especially as older representatives and senators are replaced with Republicans who share this more open mindset. Yes, there will always be social conservatives who remain opposed to same-sex marriage for religious reasons and they certainly will have their fair share of elected officials. But on the whole, gay marriage will be much less of an issue in future election cycles and this is one of the best things that could have happened to the GOP.
The Republican Party has often been portrayed as out of touch on issues such as gay marriage as well as immigration. The Democratic Party’s 2016 front-runner Hilary Clinton used the Supreme Court’s decision as an opportunity to criticize Republican contenders as seeming “determined to lead us right back into the past.” Yet the Court’s decision gives the GOP an opportunity and an excuse to disentangle itself from an unpopular position. According to the New York Times, many Republican strategists privately believe that 2016 will be the last year their nominee can get away with not supporting gay marriage rights. By accepting the Supreme Court’s decision, the GOP takes one more issue off the table that Democrats could have attacked it on.
Furthermore, moving away from being against same-sex marriage allows Republicans to attract some independent voters who tend to be socially liberal but more conservative on fiscal and political issues. With a majority of Independents (65%) in support of same-sex marriage, the GOP has a lot to gain by bringing in potential supporters that they had previously pushed away due to more conservative social views. In polarizing national elections where the base will unquestionably support whichever political party it is affiliated with, elections can be won and lost by currying the votes of Independents in swing-states; no longer having same-sex marriage as an issue to fight against will take away a huge turn-off to some independent voters.
So instead of criticizing those pesky 5 lawyers sitting on the Supreme Court, the GOP should be thanking them for having made a decision that it could probably have never made on its own (it would have been an impossible sell to the religious conservatives of the GOP). By allowing the Supreme Court to decide for them, the GOP can criticize the Court and use the decision to its political advantage in 2016 with the rhetoric that a minority of mostly liberal judges is enforcing its will on a silent and persecuted conservative majority and then slowly move away from the “anti-“ stance in future elections by saying “well it’s the law of the land and thus we must respect it.”
So pick up a rainbow flag GOP. This victory is as much yours as it is for same-sex marriage proponents. A massive thorn was removed from your side and as younger and more socially progressive Republicans begin to take the reigns of the Party, 2016 is likely one of the last times Democrats can use the “Republicans don’t support gay marriage” card.