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The Republican Civil War Over Same-Sex Marriage Has Begun

Elephants Fighting

Politically and legally it appears that the battle for marriage equality is, in some sense at least, over and done with. Since Election Day 2012 when three states legalized same sex marriage while a fourth rejected an effort to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution we’ve seen  states ranging from Rhode Island and Delaware to Illinois, Minnesota, and Hawaii legalize same-sex marriage via the legislature. On the legal side the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, has set off an avalanche of court decisions at the state and federal level in states ranging from New Jersey, Michigan, and Ohio to Utah, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. At the same time, poll after poll has shown for several years now that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, and that number has only continued to grow. There seems to be only one part of the country left where marriage equality has yet to break through, though, and that’s in the Republican Party and those parts of the country where it predominates. The same polling that shows that most American support same-sex marriage also show that most Republicans oppose it, and the prospect of the legislature in any red state passing a law that legalizes same-sex marriage seems to be pretty unlikely. In other words, when it comes to marriage equality the Republican Party is behind the times, and behind the rest of the country.

While not everyone is going to base their voting decisions on an issue like same-sex marriage, it’s fairly clear that the Republican Party’s position on this issue is something that will be a problem for them in the future. As a general matter, it’s never a good idea for any political party to find itself on the opposite side of the American people on any issue, and that seems to be especially true when it comes to a social issue that hits on such a personal issue. The polling problems for the GOP become even more apparent when you look at younger voters, where the party already has problems to begin with. Even among younger voters who lean Republican, the support for marriage equality is overwhelming, and it becomes harder and harder for Republicans to make their case to new generations of voters when they are so far apart on what seems like the self-evident issue of whether or not two people who love each other should be allowed to get married. In the long run, then, the GOP’s current position on marriage equality is quite obviously not in the best interests of the party.

Much like issues such as immigration, these political forces have turned same-sex marriage into an issue that is being closely fought over inside the Republican Party.

On the one side are those Republicans who have supported same-sex marriage for a long time who suddenly find their numbers bolstered by the segments of their party that actually want to win elections and recognize the danger that continued intransigence on this issue pose for the party. On the other side, of course, are the social conservatives who increasingly see themselves fighting a rear guard action, the outcome of which seems to have already been determined. The forces in favor of marriage equality have scored some interesting victory recently, including the decision by the Nevada Republican Party to remove the blank opposing same-sex marriage from its platform and the dismissal of officials in the Illinois Republican Party who attempted to oust the state party chairman over his statements supporting marriage equality. Additionally, Freedom To Marry, one of the largest umbrella groups in the marriage equality fight, recently announced the formation of Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry, a group made up of young conservatives who support marriage equality.

All of this, of course, is leading to some push back from the supporters of so-called “traditional marriage” on the other side of the argument:

Two conservative groups are pushing back on moves by the GOP to drop opposition to same-sex marriage from party platforms, releasing a poll of base voters taken last month that found in favor of defining marriage “only” as between a man and a woman.

The poll, commissioned by groups led by conservatives Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins, runs counter to a wide variety of opinion polls that show movement on the question of same-sex marriage, with more voters favoring it than opposing it.

(…)

The survey by the GOP polling firm Wilson Research Strategies was of Republican and Republican-leaning independents and was taken over a month ago, sampling 801 people from March 18 through March 20, with a 3.5 percent margin of error.

The survey showed 82 percent agreeing with a statement that marriage should be between “one man and one woman.” It also found 75 percent disagreed that “politicians should support the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples.”

(…)

Bauer, the president of American Values, faulted a “misinformation campaign waged by media elites” and insisted that “public policy-makers are doing a great disservice to themselves and future generations by continuing to misread the convictions of the American people … this survey should remind political and cultural leaders that this debate is far from over. If anything, it is taking on a new sense of urgency for millions of men and women of faith.”

Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, added that the “vast majority of the GOP base continues to believe that marriage is a non-negotiable plank of the national platform and want to see their elected officials uphold natural marriage as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage and promote in law.”

I don’t doubt that this poll is generally accurate. As I’ve noted above, even current polling that shows broad nationwide support for marriage equality shows that Republicans are one of the few demographic groups where a majority continues to oppose the idea of same-sex marriage. The other group where this is the case is among voters over 65, which has tended to be a strong group for Republicans since the beginning of the Obama Administration. However, even among Republicans it seems unlikely that opposition to same-sex marriage is such a vitally important issue for voters that it will cause them to vote against a candidate who happens to support marriage equality. The same goes for older voters. The only segment of the Republican Party for whom so-called “traditional marriage” remains a passionate issue are social conservatives, and while they are a vocal and active part of the party, they are not the majority. The idea that they are going to be able to hold the line against the social forces that have lead to wider acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships, along with the idea that those relationships deserve the same legal recognition as straight relationships receives is really rather silly.

Much as it has in the nation as a whole, the future of marriage equality in the Republican Party seems to already be set. The fact that we’re seeing state political parties dropping opposition to the idea from their platforms, while growing numbers of conservative politicians and pundits voice supporter for marriage equality, is a fairly strong indication of where things are headed. It’s unlikely that the GOP will nominate someone who supports marriage equality in 2016, however I think we can expect to see a battle over the “traditional marriage” plank in the party platform that year. Looking further into the future, though, the ground for Republican politicians to speak out in favor of marriage equality will be much friendlier, and the forces seeking to stop it will find themselves in the minority.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DrDaveT says:

    The Republican compromise platform will be to let a same-sex marriage count as 3/5 of a marriage.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 1

  2. Tillman says:

    Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, added that the “vast majority of the GOP base continues to believe that marriage is a non-negotiable plank of the national platform and want to see their elected officials uphold natural marriage as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage and promote in law.”

    I thought natural marriage was the one when a thirty-five year old guy marries a twelve-year-old gal. That is sick, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. That is sick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  3. mantis says:

    In other words, when it comes to marriage equality the Republican Party is behind the times, and behind the rest of the country.

    They’re still debating the Civil Rights act, so yeah, they’re behind.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 1

  4. gVOR08 says:

    Hoist on their own petard. Social conservative opposition to gay marriage is not exactly something that fell out of the sky on Republicans. Remember ’04 when Rove and the boys were putting gay marriage initiatives on ballots all over the place to drive GOP base turnout? Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 33 Thumb down 0

  5. Matt Bernius says:

    This succinctly presents the problem that Republican leaders face. They are currently the minority party, which means that they’re platform is largely based in being the “anti-” party and opposing the majority of actions of the party in power.

    The “anti-” position also fits well with the reactionary (rather than Conservative) direction the party has moved in. And it’s that reactionary element that a not-insignificant portion of Republican coalition has been built upon.

    Each special anti- interest within the coalition believes their plank to be non-negotiable. Further there’s been a large network of right wing media sources put in place reinforcing the idea that these planks are non-negotiable.

    The problem is — again — that demographics are so profoundly shifting that, as Doug points out, the party is finding itself on the wrong side of a number of issues (gay marriage, immigration, court reform, etc). Given that the party’s coalition is based on being against said changes (if not out-and-out rolling them back), leadership is left with very little room to move.

    While this may not matter so much on the local level, on the National Level, the party’s key hope is that — despite what Bauer and Perkins think — the base are not single issue voters (meaning that violating one of the “non-negotiable plank[s] of the national platform” will not be a deal breaker). Still, at this point its hard to see a pro-immigration reform and pro-gay marriage Republican be the presidential nominee.

    (I’m sure that most Republican insiders are praying that the Supreme Court makes the final call prior to the 2016 election… that way the candidate can be “against the decision” but begrudgingly respect that it’s the law of the land)

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  6. Al says:

    If history is any lesson then the GOP has a serious problem on their hands. The party had nearly twenty years to deal with a position on immigration issues that it knew was going to be a problem for itself in California. The racistsocial conservative elements of the party refused to budge and were willing to let the state go from red to blue rather than give up. I don’t see things going much differently with marriage equality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. Matt Bernius says:

    @Al,

    It is and it isn’t an issue for the GOP — at least in the mid-term.

    It probably won’t hurt them that much of the local and House level thanks to the current construction of voting districts.

    Where it will cause potential problems is in Senate elections in more moderate leaning red states and in the Presidential Election.

    The fact is that, in the long term, the party will move — if for no other reason than (a) they will start losing elections, and (b) the death of the true believers (as numerous polls suggest that this is a generational issue). The question is how much time will it take for that transition to happen, and how much will they sacrifice in the meantime.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  8. stonetools says:

    I think Doug and others are way too ready to spike the football and do the happy dance over marriage equality. Yeah, in blue state America marriage equality is in good shape, but in red state America opposition to SSM is entrenched. It will take a USSC decision to bring marriage equality to red state America, and its not clear that the Supreme Court is ready to make that kind of sweeping decision.

    This succinctly presents the problem that Republican leaders face. They are currently the minority party, which means that they’re platform is largely based in being the “anti-” party and opposing the majority of actions of the party in power.

    I dunno. Just about every pundit predicts gains for the Republicans in this elecvttion cycle, ands they seem to have enormous power to block sensible legislation.Until the Repubs are decisively rejected at the ballot box at the state and federal level, I’m not sure the REpublicans really see themselves as being that badly off.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  9. C. Clavin says:

    On some level you have to feel bad for these folks…change can be frightening.
    For instance during the our own Revolution there were about 500,000 colonials who were afraid of the future…absolutely terrified of what change…freedom…would mean.
    These Loyalists, back in the day were called Royalists, or the Kings Men, or Tories…today we just call them Republicans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

  10. DrDaveT says:

    in red state America opposition to SSM is entrenched

    Perhaps, but if (as was suggested above) this opposition is significantly weaker among the young, then this is a problem that corrects itself.

    That’s the real revolution — the failure of the self-sustaining cycle of opposition. It doesn’t matter how firmly older red-state denizens oppose same-sex marriage, if their kids’ kids are going to be OK with it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  11. Andre Kenji says:

    there will be no Civil war: the Social Conservatives have already lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  12. James in Silverdale, WA says:

    @Matt Bernius: “Each special anti- interest within the coalition believes their plank to be non-negotiable.”

    This. It means 2016 will likely feature a lot of stay-at-homes as a result. There’s no compromising marriage equality with the folks who are left with it. If healthcare polling improves even a little bit by November, 2014 could be the same.

    As for “evolution,” it had to happen. In just 50 short years, gay issues went from never being discussed ever to marriage equality. Too fast for many. But it wasn’t just gay people evolving. Everyone wanted to avoid that label, as it could get you fired at best and killed at worst. Everyone was afraid.

    2014 now appears to be the most meaningless election of my adult life, as whatever happens will be swept away in 2016. A “winning” GOP will still be on the losing side of all the seminal issues of our time.

    Conservatives could change that overnight, but it would require a divorce from GWB, followed by calling the police, followed by repealing the underpinning of Terror State, Inc. with the majority in the House.

    Well. One can dream!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. Matt Bernius says:

    @stonetools:

    But not enough to get you to parity with, say, coal power (unless we actually accounted for the negative externalities of coal, of course).

    I agree about the State level — as I said, this really isn’t a problem at that level due to districts. And because the House is based on districts, this isn’t going to be a problem on *that* federal level.

    When it comes to the Senate and the Presidency, things are different. If the Republicans fail to retake the Senate this year, it will be in part due to picking outside of the mainstream candidates in the primaries. And a lot of that could be caused by a split coalition due to “non-negotiable planks” (remember that’s what brought the Republicans Todd Akin for example).

    And frankly, I’m not sure if its in the Republican’s best interest to retake the Senate. Because that *will* shift them out of the minority and they will have to start actually implementing their “anti-” platform (or face the consequences). I don’t see how that helps in 2016.

    Likewise, unless things go really south for Obama, it’s hard to see how a Republican presidential candidate can get around these issues (unless they are resolved for him/her via the SC).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. Mu says:

    The Republican are now reaping the harvest of a political system they helped entrench. With no possibility of a successful 3rd party due to years of election law manipulation and gerrymandering, it is impossible for them to do what would happen in any parliamentary democracy, a party split. You would get a socon party with probably 20% -25% of the popular vote, and a fiscal conservative party with another 20 – 25%, which together would have a good chance for a political majority. But due to the “winner takes all” system from the primary onwards a split would be suicidal, and you keep ending up with primaries nominating candidates that half the party finds repugnant and doesn’t support. And the 35% party is born. Enough to hang around and pretend to be meaningful, but doomed to the scrapheap the day Texas goes blue due to the demographic shift, be it 2024 or 2036.
    But then, just as we deal with debt and social security, that’s so many election cycles away our current leaders don’t have to worry about it right now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Scott says:

    You got to realize that the war is fundamentally a religious war. We say social conservatives but it really is based on religion. If the Republican party becomes one based on a particular religious sect, then the American people will reject it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  16. Matt Bernius says:

    @Scott:

    You got to realize that the war is fundamentally a religious war.

    Actually, I’d say it’s a “cultural” war, because it includes religious battles, but goes far beyond them. For this particular “anti-” interest its religious. But religion can’t be used to describe for other “anti-” interests like immigration or climate change.

    In fact, some progressive Republicans frame support of both those later issues in explicitly religious terms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  17. al-Ameda says:

    Structurally, from an electoral standpoint, the Republican Party is set for a while.

    Republican controlled statehouses have re-drawn congressional districts to ensure that low-population conservative voters have disproportionate influence. There are no apparent electoral consequences to standing firm in the ongoing culture wars. In the short-term it makes winning the presidency somewhat difficult, however the House is won, and the Senate may become an acid bath too.

    Perhaps in 5-10 years demographics will overtake the congressional situation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Ben says:

    @stonetools:

    Totally agreed. People keep putting out articles counting the nails in the coffin of the Republican party, but I really don’t see it.

    There is a gigantic consensus in this country that the Republicans are going to have sizable gains in at least the next two election cycles. They aren’t paying an electoral price yet, and they’re not slated to for at least another 4-6 years.

    Marriage equality is still only a reality on the west coast, northeast and great lakes. The states have marriage equality only comes out to 37% or so of the US population. Yes it has momentum, but that is cold-comfort for the gays and lesbians and their families that live in the rest of the country. A Supreme Court ruling granting marriage equality nationwide is nowhere near certain, and even if it were, it is still a ways off.

    People seem to love to declare victory/defeat way WAY too early.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  19. Ken says:
  20. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares what the Republicans do concerning same sex marriage or immigraiton. Conservative politics is not sustainable in the U.S. and conservatives are irrelevant to policy or governance in the U.S. Anyone who believes giving militant homosexuals or amnesty advocates exactly what they want will help any form of conservative political party to survive in the U.S. is a fool.

    The idiot Republicans who want to “put same sex marriage behind us” and want to give Evan Wolfson everything he wants will be arguing in a few years that it is “time for conservatives to put the tax exempt status of religious institution behind us.” .

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. al-Ameda says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Who cares what the Republicans do concerning same sex marriage or immigraiton. Conservative politics is not sustainable in the U.S.

    So, it’s over. We won?
    Yay.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  22. DrDaveT says:

    @superdestroyer:

    Conservative politics is not sustainable in the U.S.

    You do realize that by the standards of the rest of the world, the US has only conservative politics, right? We have no party that is left of center, on the global scale.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. anjin-san says:

    militant homosexuals

    Did the gay kids at school beat you up again?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. beth says:

    @anjin-san: Yeah there’s nothing more militant than getting married. I’ve gone to so many weddings where anarchy broke out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ beth

    there’s nothing more militant than getting married.

    It’s the first stop on the road to a homo-fascist regime…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  26. DrDaveT says:

    @beth:

    I’ve gone to so many weddings where anarchy broke out.

    Best kind.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @beth:

    Yeah there’s nothing more militant than getting married. I’ve gone to so many weddings where anarchy broke out.

    A point of clarification, if I might.
    That usually happens at the reception, not during the ceremony.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  28. Barry says:

    @stonetools: “I dunno. Just about every pundit predicts gains for the Republicans in this elecvttion cycle, ands they seem to have enormous power to block sensible legislation.Until the Repubs are decisively rejected at the ballot box at the state and federal level, I’m not sure the REpublicans really see themselves as being that badly off. ”

    And the GOP is busily entrenching themselves at the state level, with the eager help of the GOP.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. DrDaveT says:

    @DrDaveT:

    The Republican compromise platform will be to let a same-sex marriage count as 3/5 of a marriage.

    Awesome, I was waiting for a downvote to show up eventually. It suggests that my comment eventually reached someone who didn’t already see the parallel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0