We're fast approaching a national decision on gay marriage from the Supreme Court, speculates Paul Waldman in the Washington Post
In recent months, one court after another — in Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, and Kentucky — has either ruled a state ban illegal or said the state must recognize legal marriages performed in other states. It now seems all but inevitable that sooner rather than later, the Supreme Court will answer the question of whether or not a state can ban same-sex marriage.
Waldman predicts that the Court will rule in favor of marriage equality and notes that "[i]f and when that happens, the political fallout will be enormous." Republican strategists might look at a ruling like that as the sort of thing that could create a base-motivating backlash like Roe v. Wade (or less famously, Furman v. Georgia
, which radically altered the politics of the death penalty in America). I could certainly imagine Sen. Jason Rapert saying
he was tired of courts "running roughshod over what you people believe in."
"That’s a dangerous place for conservatives to place their political hopes," Waldman argues. In order to appeal to their base of evangelicals and older conservatives, Republicans would likely have to loudly repudiate any ruling from the Court which legalized gay marriage throughout the country (it could become a litmus test in a place like Arkansas, where a meaningless resolution giving a thumbs up to the Defense of Marriage Act passed by voice vote in the House
). That could pay short-term dividends in Republican strongholds, but might well alienate younger voters and moderates (even among Republicans, 61 percent under the age of 30 support marriage equality
). Rep. Justin Harris is convinced
that future generations will see his opposition to gay marriage as a heroic stand: "What will be your response when you are asked, did you defend marriage between one man and one woman?" Perhaps Harris is right, but the trends, both nationally and in Arkansas, point dramatically in the other direction.
[W]hile public opinion on abortion has essentially been static for decades, opposition to gay marriage is rapidly dwindling and will never again be embraced by a majority of Americans.
So politically speaking, in the wake of a SCOTUS decision, the gay marriage issue will flare brightly, but much more briefly than abortion did. We won’t be debating it forty years from now. What will remain is the ill feelings among millions of voters toward a party they’ll view as intolerant for a long time to come.
If the Court rules as Waldman predicts, we'll find out. I'd expect Arkansas Republicans to aggressively demagogue this issue if given the chance. How well that works may be one measure of how far, or not, the state has come on this issue.
One strange feature of being a political journalist is that you get to know politicians, including Republicans on the record as firmly opposing gay marriage. Obviously some of these folks have a sincerely held belief that gay marriage is wrong. But privately, many have no problem at all with gay marriage. Politically, for now, it just doesn't behoove them to say so (I'd speculate that this was almost certainly the case in years past with Democrats like President Obama
That's what I found so depressing about the House resolution last year (or about President Clinton
's support for DOMA in the '90s for that matter): the easy, amoral cynicism. Here's hoping that Waldman is right, and there is a long-term political price to pay for the ugliness that is convenient today.