Republicans Avoiding Gay Marriage Ruling

The Republican Party is keeping relatively quiet on the Proposition 8 ruling. That's a good idea.

As The Politico notes this morning, Republicans seem to be avoiding stepping in to comment on the Federal Court ruling that struck down California’s Proposition 8:

When a federal judge in California last week ruled the state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional, several political observers braced for a flood of Republican blasts on the issue that could end up resonating in campaigns nationally.

Instead, the anticipated GOP bang over the ban — known as Proposition 8 — amounted to little more than a whimper. There were angry columns and cries of protest from right-wing groups and conservative writers, but the majority of the Republican establishment kept on a bread-and-butter message — and party leaders are encouraging them not to stray.

It also was expected that Democrats, outside of deep-Blue states, would not press the issue in broad strokes — but the relative calm from a party whose last president called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage and denounced activist judges was telling about the meta-narrative of the 2010 cycle.

Things could change — it’s the doldrums of August, after all — and there’s a possibility the issue will be used surgically in certain districts. But this election cycle is focused, by both sides, on a swath of the electorate that isn’t driven by social issues — the independents — and the very real economic problems facing voters.

In California, the two leading GOP candidates — gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman and U.S. Senate nominee Carly Fiorina — issued muted statements.

On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the day after the ruling, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who opposes gay marriage, said he thought it may come up in a “subliminal” way in campaigns and moved off the topic fairly quickly.

The national committees didn’t touch it in a real way — “I haven’t been following closely,” said one Washington GOP operative who works with one of the committees. Meanwhile Republican leaders made clear their strategy is staying on jobs.

“Every indicator that I have … generally speaking is that economic growth and job creation are the tandem issues that will be the principal drivers of voter decision at polls,” said Republican National Committee political director Gentry Collins at a press briefing at the party’s Kansas City, Missouri, meeting Thursday.

“What I’m encouraging candidates to do is go out and run on an economic platform, a jobs platform.”

In a Slate magazine piece in which John Dickerson interviewed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the conservative and long-serving Republican from Kentucky, he got a quiet response on Prop 8.

“McConnell was asked twice about the judge’s ruling overturning Proposition 8,” Dickerson writes. “He could have talked about activist judges, a favorite conservative punching bag. The judge in this case is from San Francisco, a city that in some conservative circles is an epithet. In 2004, a ruling on same-sex marriage from the Massachusetts Supreme Court inspired President George Bush to call for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. McConnell, though, just said he thought voters would be more worried about the economy.”

The logic is simple. “Both sides fear this,” explained a senior Democrat. “(This) election is all about independents who are ambivalent on (certain social issues) right now.”

As Ed Morrissey Allahpundit notes, this seems to be the smart political route for Republicans to take:

Why gamble on an issue on which the electorate’s already fairly closely split when you’ve got the heavy artillery of 9.5 percent unemployment and staggering national debt to run on? Especially when seniors, a reliably anti-gay-marriage group, are already sure to come out to the polls en masse for the GOP to protest ObamaCare and young adults, a reliably pro-gay-marriage group, will probably stay home due to disinterest? Let sleeping dogs lie. Besides, even tea partiers are likely to split over gay marriage; the last thing the GOP leadership wants to do is antagonize the libertarians in its own base

Certainly, there are areas of the country where taking a strong stand on gay marriage won’t hurt, and very likely could help, a Republican candidate. For the most part, though, it’s fairly clear that this year’s electorate is focusing on the economy and jobs, not whether or not the two guys in Apartment 3B can get a marriage license or not. If the GOP is smart, which is I admit an unanswered question, they’ll keep quiet on this and let the case make it’s way through the Courts.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Gender Issues, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ed Morrissey says:

    Doug, that was Allahpundit who wrote that at Hot Air.  I agree with him, but I didn’t write that passage.

  2. Geez I of all people should know to check the byline on a blog with more than one writer shouldn’t I ?


    Fixing now

  3. Ed Morrissey says:

    No sweat!  AP made a great point; I don’t want to bogart it.  Thanks!!

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    The first stage of the pivot on gay marriage.  They’ll let the hillbillies rant and rage but keep the issue out of the national party level.  In a few years they’ll need to be able to pretend they were for it all along. Obama will have that same problem.  No doubt he thought it would be smart politics, but it will end up being a stain he can’t quite wipe off.  It’s the kind of thing they’ll be wrestling with at his presidential library some day:  how to avoid labeling him anti-gay.

  5. MarkedMan says:

    Don’t we know how this will play out?  Whether it’s Jews or Blacks or the Irish, the conservatives made hay  resisting, then once it was generally accepted in society, immediately switched to the “only the (jews, blacks, irish) are bigots, because they keep calling us bigots and want special favors”, followed up with a healthy dose of wink, wink, nudge, nudge to the wackos still out there, letting them know that “maybe it’s politically incorrect to say so now, but we’re really with you boys.”

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yep.  That’s exactly right.  The history of American conservatism since the 60’s.