South End of a North-Bound Brontosaurus

There’s a Manu Raju piece at Politico today on the growing gap between opinion on same-sex marriage between Congress (mainly among Republicans, but also among many red-state Democrats) and the country. Most conservative pols are mouthing the same platitudes on “traditional marriage” that worked for them a decade or two decades ago. But public opinion continues to move rapidly, notably as measured in the recent WaPo poll that shows Americans favoring legalized same-sex marriage by a 58-36 margin, with an astonishing 81% of those under 30 favoring same-sex marriage.

So Republicans in particular are being caught in a whirlwind on this issue, since their own rank-and-file still opposes marriage equality by a 59-34 margin (indies, by contrast, support it by a 62-32 margin, even though for a host of reasons they tend to tilt Republican these days). Meanwhile, Democrats taking their old and previously safe position of supporting every equality measure short of marriage are not only bucking overall public opinion, but no longer have much of a platform of Democratic public opinion on which to stand, with the Democratic rank-and-file now favoring legalized same-sex marriage by a 72-23 margin.

As Raju illustrates, congressional Republicans are mostly keeping their mouths shut on the issue unless pressed. A few, like retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, feel free to make the old bigoted jokes: “I’m not gay, so I’m not going to marry one.” Good one, Saxby; it ranks right down there with the old Christian Right knee-slapper, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” which I heard as recently as last summer at a big Christian Right clambake in Iowa attended by a host of big-time national Republican pols.

But the favorite dodge, particularly beloved of that “libertarian” folk hero Rand Paul, is simply to insist it’s a “state issue” and then change the subject. This may not work to keep the Christian Right happy too much longer if states continue to legalize same-sex marriage. It is, however, probably the best politicians can do when they realize they are the south end of a north-bound brontosaurus hurtling towards a choice between evolution or extinction.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.