Speaking in purely political terms, the best thing the Supreme Court could do for the future of the Republican Party is issue a sweeping ruling that gay marriage is a constitutionally protected right. By doing so, it would pretty much gut the issue as a point of political contention.
The worst thing the court could do to the GOP — again, politically speaking — is duck the issue and leave it for politicians to wrangle over, which is the outcome that most observers now predict.
Last week, Mike Huckabee was asked if the GOP could ever endorse gay marriage.
“They might,” Huckabee responded. “And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk.”
He’s probably right. As the latest Pew poll reports, 75 percent of white evangelicals oppose gay marriage. As Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, warned recently:
“If the RNC abandons marriage, evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely or move to create a third party. Either option puts Republicans on the path to a permanent minority.”
On the other hand, though, there’s this, also from the Pew poll:
Seventy percent of those 32 and younger support gay marriage. A similar poll by the Washington Post found that 52 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents under 50 years of age support gay marriage.
So as a Republican leader, you’re trapped between a rock and a hard place. You’re caught between Scylla and Charybdis, between the devil and the deep blue sea. You’re damned if you do and …. well you get the point. The longer you stay where you are, the greater the damage to your party’s future. But if you try to reposition yourself, you alienate a good portion of the current GOP coalition.
You could, I suppose, just keep your head down and your mouth shut and hope nobody notices. In fact, as NPR reports:
“Those defending (the Defense of Marriage Act) have been strangely unwilling to make their arguments outside of the court. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declined to be interviewed for this article, as did (lead attorney Paul) Clement and leading House members who voted for the law. Even Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who filed a friend of the court brief supporting DOMA, was unavailable for an interview.”
That silence is even more telling when you consider that Boehner and his fellow House Republicans are spending millions of taxpayer dollars to finance their legal effort to salvage DOMA before the Supreme Court. Even when Boehner does address the issue, as he reluctantly did last week, he does so dispassionately, preferring to cast it in strictly legal terms:
“In our system of government, the administration doesn’t get to decide what’s constitutional. The Supreme Court does. Our financing the lawsuit was to make sure that the proper forum was used to make sure that we know what’s constitutional and what isn’t.”
There’s a certain karma to all of this. For years, Republicans have highlighted this issue to milk as much political advantage from it as possible. In 2004, for example, they pushed an amendment to the Georgia constitution banning gay marriage in the state, as if they were fending off hordes of rainbow-flag-waving activists. It was a populist act of defiance, akin to the 1956 decision by Georgia legislators to add the Confederate battle emblem to the state flag as a protest against desegregation.
And it will prove just as effective in the long run.
– Jay Bookman