Opposition To Same-Sex Marriage No Longer A Winning Issue For The GOP

Opposition to marriage equality is no longer the wedge issue it used to be.

President Obama’s decision to decline to prosecute the appeal of a decision declaring part of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional has led some social conservatives to call on the GOP to once again make opposition to same-sex marriage part of the party’s political agenda:

NEW YORK — Angered conservatives are vowing to make same-sex marriage a front-burner election issue, nationally and in the states, following the Obama administration’s announcement that it will no longer defend the federal law denying recognition to gay married couples.

“The ripple effect nationwide will be to galvanize supporters of marriage,” said staff counsel Jim Campbell of Alliance Defense Fund, a conservative legal group.

On the federal level, opponents of same-sex marriage urged Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to intervene on their own to defend the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, against pending court challenges.

“The president has thrown down the gauntlet, challenging Congress,” said Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. “It is incumbent upon the Republican leadership to respond by intervening to defend DOMA, or they will become complicit in the president’s neglect of duty.”

Conservatives also said they would now expect the eventual 2012 GOP presidential nominee to highlight the marriage debate as part of a challenge to Obama, putting the issue on equal footing with the economy.

Gay rights activists welcomed Wednesday’s announcement from the Justice Department, sensing that it would bolster the prospects for same-sex marriage in the courts. Among Democrats in Congress, there was praise for Obama’s decision and talk of proposing legislation to repeal the law altogether.

“I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now,” said Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif. “My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the federal government should honor that.”

(…)

Perkins, the Family Research Council leader, suggested that House Republicans would risk alienating their conservative base if they did not tackle the marriage issue head-on.

“The president was kind of tossing this cultural grenade into the Republican camp,” he said.

“If they ignore this, it becomes an issue that will lead to some very troubling outcomes for Republicans.”

Despite the strident words of Perkins and others, thought, this isn’t as easy an issue as it was for the GOP in the 1990s or during the 2004 election cycle and many conservatives have diverged from the social conservatives position to take a much more libertarian view of marriage equality:

WASHINGTON — President Obama’s decision to abandon his legal support for the Defense of Marriage Act has generated only mild rebukes from the Republicans hoping to succeed him in 2012, evidence of a shifting political climate in which social issues are being crowded out by economic concerns.

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that after two years of defending the law — hailed by proponents in 1996 as an cornerstone in the protection of traditional values — the president and his attorney general have concluded it is unconstitutional.

In the hours that followed, Sarah Palin’s Facebook site was silent. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, was close-mouthed. Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, released a Web video — on the labor union protests in Wisconsin — and waited a day before issuing a marriage statement saying he was “disappointed.”

Others, like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, and Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, took their time weighing in, and then did so only in the most tepid terms. “The Justice Department is supposed to defend our laws,” Mr. Barbour said.

Asked if Mitch Daniels, the Republican governor of Indiana and a possible presidential candidate, had commented on the marriage decision, a spokeswoman said that he “hasn’t, and with other things we have going on here right now, he has no plans.”

The sharpest reaction came from Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, in an interview here during a stop to promote his new book, who called the administration’s decision “utterly inexplicable.”

A few years ago, the president’s decision might have set off an intense national debate about gay rights. But the Republicans’ reserved response this week suggests that Mr. Obama may suffer little political damage as he evolves from what many gay rights leaders saw as a lackluster defender of their causes into a far more aggressive advocate.

“The wedge has lost its edge,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who worked for President George W. Bush during his 2004 campaign, when gay marriage ballot measures in a dozen states helped turn out conservative voters.

(…)

Prominent Republicans like Dick Cheney, the former vice president, and Barbara Bush, daughter of the former president, have defended the right of gays to marry. And Mr. Obama has been emboldened by the largely positive response to his recent, and successful, push for Congress to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the military’s ban on gays serving openly.

At the same time, the rise of the Tea Party movement, and the success that Republicans had last year in attacking Democratic candidates on economic issues, has pushed the debate over abortion and gay rights to the back burner.

“I don’t think this is the issue that it once was,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist. “I think that the economic issues are so big that this one pales in comparison.”

More importantly, public opposition to same-sex marriage has eased significantly in the decade and a half since this became a battleground in the so-called “culture wars.” One recent CNN poll, for example., showed that the public is nearly evenly divided on the issue, with a slight majority actually now supporting same-sex unions. Other polling has consistently shown that, at best, gay marriage is now a 50-50 issue in the United States as  a whole, which is a far cry from the days when the numbers in opposition to the idea were in the 70% range. Attitudes have also changed significantly on public acceptance of  gay relationships in general.

Because of this, it just doesn’t make electoral sense for the GOP to concentrate so heavily on an issue like same-sex marriage when its clear that, no matter what stand it takes, it’s going to be annoying at least 50% of the population. In the 2004 election, referendums to ban same-sex marriage helped bring socially conservative voters to the polls in 2004 and arguably helped George W. Bush defeat John Kerry in states like Ohio. Today, except in limited Congressional districts, it’s hard to conceive that a similar campaign strategy would work. Voters are focused on the economy, and on the size and scope of government, appeals to divisive social issues just aren’t working the same way they used to.

So, despite the strident demands of social conservatives, I don’t expect the GOP to make a major push on same-sex marriage, not now and not during the 2012 campaign. Oh yes, there will be candidates who will push that button during the Presidential primaries. especially in states where the issue is still popular. Nationwide. however, and as a strategy for the General Election, the GOP will need to stay away from this issue if it wants to win in November

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Gender Issues, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Xenos says:

    Nationwide. however, and as a strategy for the General Election, the GOP will need to stay away from this issue if it wants to win in November

    Not so easily done. Thus the wedge has flipped around could wind up wedging the erstwhile wedger. Or you could call it a two sided wedge. Bad faith in politics tends to lead to this sort of political karma.

  2. Chris says:

    I fail to see why government should be legislating morality in this manner. A state-based legal contract binding two people in a union for the purpose of managing property rights is within their purview. Everyone should have that legal protection regardless of personal choices. A religion-based compact governing the rights and duties and commitments of a husband and wife agreed to before their God have nothing at all to do with this and of course can never be legislated by any state authority. In my view, the word “marriage” applies to the latter. I can’t imagine who would argue against the former.

  3. Vast Variety says:

    It doesn’t seem to be stopping Ron Paul who completely lost any all support I once had in him.

    http://theiowarepublican.com/home/2011/02/24/ron-paul-condemns-obama%E2%80%99s-decision-to-abandon-doma/

  4. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Hot jolt anyone……

  5. Rick Almeida says:

    A religion-based compact governing the rights and duties and commitments of a husband and wife agreed to before their God have nothing at all to do with this and of course can never be legislated by any state authority.

    And you realize, of course, that religious institutions (as private actors) are free to restrict their religious rites to whomever they choose.

    Fact is, my state ogvernment gave my wife and I a “Marriage License”. I would support your efforts to change the name of civil marriage in all 50 states, but I bet you have better things to do.

  6. TG Chicago says:

    Wow, I expected Paul’s opposition to be based in either states’ rights or the concept that the DOJ should be obligated to get behind all laws — nothing more. I did not expect him to say “I believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and must be protected.” But he did. So much for the great Libertarian hope.

  7. george says:

    I fail to see why government should be legislating morality in this manner.

    Well, some people think the gov’t should play a big role in people’s day to day lives – such people commonly want it to legislate morality. Others prefer a smaller gov’t, and so think it shouldn’t be legislating morality.

  8. So that’s how the slippery slope works.

  9. mantis says:

    So that’s how the slippery slope works.

    Yep. First we let people from different races marry each other, now this!

  10. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    L. RON HUBBARD WAS A PROPHIT!

  11. I didn’t realize what a pathetic racist you were mantis.

    Oh, you meant to imply that I’m a racist. Stay classy.

  12. george says:

    So that’s how the slippery slope works.

    I’m kind of surprised, I didn’t think you were the type who wanted the gov’t involved in people’s day to day lives. Or is that the slippery slope you’re speaking of … allow them to regulate things like that, and soon they’ll want to regulate everything?

  13. Wiley Stoner says:

    Mantis, when they made that change to allow interracial marriage, was that limited to those of the opposite sex, or were you still restricted from marrying you pet goat?

  14. mantis says:

    Mantis, when they made that change to allow interracial marriage, was that limited to those of the opposite sex, or were you still restricted from marrying you pet goat?

    Are you implying that there are not two genders of goats? I know science and nature are rather confusing for dimwitted wingnuts like yourself, but it’s surprising that you don’t know that.

    It’s nice of you to equate the marriage of two consenting adults with that of a person and livestock. Is that Santorum running down your leg?

    Anyway, what was the point of your idiotic question, stoner boy?

  15. mantis says:

    Oh, you meant to imply that I’m a racist.

    Did I? No, you misunderstood. Not surprising. You’re an idiot.

  16. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Man and goat would more fit the definition differant races. Just spalaining……

  17. george says:

    Mantis, when they made that change to allow interracial marriage, was that limited to those of the opposite sex, or were you still restricted from marrying you pet goat?

    They still restricted marrying outside your species. As far as I know, that’s also the case with gay marriage – its only allowed between humans and other humans.

    Really, what do you care what others are doing? Its not like they’re forcing you into a gay marriage.

  18. mantis says:

    Its not like they’re forcing you into a gay marriage.

    Not yet, but it’s a slippery slope!

  19. Janis Gore says:

    For goodness’ sake, Mantis, can’t you for the life of you see how confiscating a greater portion of the inheritance Ms. Windsor received from partner Ms. Spyer after 40 years of partnership is necessary to upholding the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.

    Dummy.

  20. Vast Variety says:

    When a goat (or a child, or a toaster, or the blow up doll in your closet) becomes a sentient being capable of entering into a legal contract your slippery slope argument might actually make some since. Until that happens it’s just a fear tactic that has no basis in reality.

    Bans on same-sex marriage violate the fundamental principles of American freedom and the US Constitution.

  21. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    For goodness’ sake, Mantis, can’t you for the life of you see how confiscating a greater portion of the inheritance Ms. Windsor received from partner Ms. Spyer after 40 years of partnership is necessary to upholding the sanctity of heterosexual marriage.
    Chris made a good point about this…

    Or they could get a lawyer.

    Civil unions for every one sounds good to me. If then you want to go Before God or a god as husband and wife, go forth, or husband and husband, wife and wife. We got Evey type of a church you can imagine in America.

    Give unto caesar, give unto God….

  22. Janis Gore says:

    She has a bunch of lawyers. That’s one of the cases the administration will not defend.

  23. Matt B says:

    Civil unions for every one sounds good to me. If then you want to go Before God or a god as husband and wife, go forth, or husband and husband, wife and wife.

    If that is the case — and it wouldn’t necessarily be bad — then the DOMA act should be thrown out and marriage should be made a purely religious institution (i.e. State authorizes a civil uinion, and only a religious officiant can create a marriage). In that case, it should be left up to the rules of the “church.”

    Until that happens, what you’re talking about is separate, but equal. And that usually works out far better for one side than the other.

  24. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    She has a bunch of lawyers. That’s one of the cases the administration will not defend.
    That sucks, you should be able to leave all of your stuff to who ever you want. All of it!

  25. TG Chicago says:

    This talk about goats is great, but I’m still surprised by the Ron Paul thing.

    As a matter of fact, his support of states’ rights is actually at odds with his stated position on gay marriage. Section 3 of DOMA — the part the DOJ is rejecting — is the part that says that the Federal Government will not recognize the right of the states to legalize marriage.

    So when a non-libertarian position (gay marriage opposition) comes into conflict with a libertarian one (states’ rights), Paul is choosing the non-libertarian path. Weird.

  26. Neil Hudelson says:

    Civil unions for every one sounds good to me.

    GA,

    Are you arguing for axing ‘marriage licenses’ for an all civil union system? And leaving marriage to respective religious institutions?

    Because if you are…no it can’t be…

    Yes…I think we may agree completely on something.

  27. Wiley Stoner says:

    I think the former speaker of the house has issued a warning to the effect Obama is violating his constitutional duty not to enforce a constitutional law of the United States. Since deciding what is or is not constitutional is the sole juridiction of the Judiciary not executive branch of government. I’ll bet that would send a tingle up Chris Mathews leg. I don’t know of any individual who thinks gays should be allowed to marry. Civil unions to ensure the same rights yes, but marriage is and always has been between a man and a woman. By the way, there is no civil right to marriage. You cannot license a right.

  28. mantis says:

    Yes…I think we may agree completely on something.

    Yeah, me too. Kinda strange.

  29. mantis says:

    I think the former speaker of the house has issued a warning to the effect Obama is violating his constitutional duty not to enforce a constitutional law of the United States

    A) Who cares what Newt says?

    B) That’s not what the president is doing.

    I don’t know of any individual who thinks gays should be allowed to marry.

    Really? You have not heard one single person express this opinion, anywhere? Liar.

  30. Stan says:

    Wiley, you now know (if only at long distance) one person who thinks people of the same sex should be allowed to marry: me. But I am opposed to legalizing sexual intercourse between humans and chickens. I hope this makes you feel better about me.

  31. Janis Gore says:

    After reading recent testimony in the debate of the civil unions bill in Hawaii, I’d say there’s nearly as much animus toward civil unions as same-sex marriage where the debate comes up.

  32. wr says:

    Mantis — I don’t see why you assume Wiley Stoner is lying. Can you imagine anyone wanting to spend any time with him who didn’t agree with every one of his positions?

  33. wr says:

    Janis — I think you’re exactly right. “Conservatives” claim to love civil unions, as long as the conversation is about marriage. Once they’d taken that off the table and we’re talking about civil unions, then they hate them, too.

  34. Janis Gore says:

    A rose by another name, they say.

  35. Have A Nice G.A. says:

    Are you arguing for axing ‘marriage licenses’ for an all civil union system? And leaving marriage to respective religious institutions?

    Yes…

  36. mantis says:

    Mantis — I don’t see why you assume Wiley Stoner is lying. Can you imagine anyone wanting to spend any time with him who didn’t agree with every one of his positions?

    He said he didn’t know of any individual who thinks gays should be able to marry, not that he didn’t personally know anyone who thinks that. He obviously knows of people who think that. There are several right here on this thread.

  37. anjin-san says:

    Is that little splat under mantis’ shoe the idiot once know as stoner?

  38. george, like most libertarians I have come to believe that the government shouldn’t be in the marraige business at all, and I have supported civil unions for a long time. I’ve never had a problem supporting civil unions to provide the kind of civil rights for same-sex partners that I thought this used to be about. Sadly, there also seems to have developed a concurrent desire by some of poking a lot of more traditional-minded people in the eye with a pointed stick that has nothing to do with the civil rights of same-sex partners that I have found distasteful when it comes to the gay marraige proponents as compared to civil union proponents.

    Does that make sense?

  39. Hmm…, since most, if not all, marraiges involve spending money and therefore fall under federal powers via the commerce clause, I’m not sure how we separate the government from marraige.

  40. Janis Gore says:

    In other words, Mr. Austen, speaking to the auther of this post, don’t be so assured about the new state of the voters. I agree.

  41. george says:

    george, like most libertarians I have come to believe that the government shouldn’t be in the marraige business at all, and I have supported civil unions for a long time.

    That sounds more like I would have expected – and its actually my take as well. Civil union is a civic issue for the gov’t, marriage a religious issue which each religion can decide for themselves. The way I’d see it working is that if a couple wants to be married, they find a church which agrees to marry them – and independently register a civic union with the gov’t. You could in fact be married without a civic union (ie no gov’t benefits), or have a civic union without a marriage (ie no religious element), or be both married and united civilly (though strictly speaking a civil union is probably much rarer than a civic union).

  42. Janis Gore says:

    Good Lord, that seems overly complicated, or is that your point?

  43. Scott P says:

    Those that would deny gay people from marrying due to some semantic argument about the word “marriage” (as if Christians have a copyright on the word) confuse me. Are they really okay with it as long as it’s named something else, or are they just trying to veil their bigotry because they know that a name change would never happen? Do they not see a problem with our government bowing to a particular religion? Do they not realize that calling it “marriage” for straights and “civil union” for gays is like saying, “Hey black people, you can ride the bus, but you have to sit in the back!”?

    I think the semantic argument about the word “marriage” as a reason or condition to prevent gays from forming a union right now is very weak. I’m also not interested in moving closer to a theocracy.

  44. Scott P, your commenbts are exactly what I was referencing earlier. It is the total lack of respect for some very old traditions and the name calling of people who don’t agree with you that turns me off. Your analogy is specious and claiming it will bring about a theocracy is ridiculous as it hasn’t managed to do yet, Jeez. It has nothing to do with the government respecting the establishment of any given reigion — not that it doesn’t do that now in many respects of things you obviously do and perhaps don’t approve of. Perhaps you entirely missed the part where I said government should be out of the marriage business altogether, so it’s civil unions for everyone. If the Roman Catholic Church wants to decide who is married in its eyes, why is that a problem? Or aren’t they free to hold their own religious beliefs any longer? The government’s job is to protect civil rights, not religious rights, or even religious rites. But YMMV.

  45. Janis Gore says:

    I would consider my 17-year heterosexual marriage a civil union. We were married in a judge’s office with a secretary as witness. It was called a marriage certificate. Some people want to make it a semantic problem, veiling, hell, whatever.

  46. Janis Gore says:

    Call it a turnip or a treefrog, I want the rights behind it. We’ll create the respect.

    Reference Elizabeth Taylor.

  47. hank kelly says:

    I hope this article is right and not wishful thinking. But the wedgie seems to be working in Iowa. They removed 3 Supreme Court Justices that ruled for gay marriage. The Republican legislature in Iowa is spending more time on gay marriage than on jobs. They and their ilk can still whip up the fear and the hysteria.

  48. anjin-san says:

    > It is the total lack of respect for some very old traditions

    I am thinking I will tell my wife she has to walk several paces behind me. It’s a very old tradition. The gardener should probably also touch his forelock before speaking to me. Also an old tradition. We have to respect tradition. We just have to!

  49. Neil Hudelson says:

    Anjin,

    And that is why you are a lefty–thinking you can snark your way out of a debate.

    You know what? I happen to LIKE old traditions. I was raised that proper americans respect the ways of the past.

    Which is why my family in North Carolina still owns slaves. Oh well tell the gov’ment that they are exchange students, but really how else are we going to harvest crops so cheaply? I still can’t believe we, as a nation, actually tried to do away with such a time honored tradition.

  50. matt says:

    It is the total lack of respect for some very old traditions and the name calling of people.

    Dude man boy love is an extremely old tradition. Slaverly was an extremely old tradition. Killing those that don’t look like you is an extremely old tradition…etcetcetc.. So frankly I don’t care about your “very old tradition”…

    I too agree with GA. I’ve been saying for years that the GOV’t needs to get out of the marriage business and just give everyone a civil union for benefits..

  51. Yeah, because marriage and slavery are both old they are equivalent.

    You think this is clever?

  52. matt says:

    A tradition is a ritual, belief or object passed down within a society…

  53. anjin-san says:

    > Yeah, because marriage and slavery are both old they are equivalent.

    No one said they were equivalent, you are the one that brought up the need to respect old traditions, you did not include T&Cs that state “we need to respect old traditions, but only when it supports a weak argument I am trying to make”.

    If it means gays and lesbians have to continue as second class citizens, I say fvck the “old traditions”. Equal justice under the law is the old tradition that is in question here.

  54. matt says:

    Yes indeed my point was that history is full of “old traditions” that were dropped due to enlightenment.