The GOP, Gay Marriage and the War on Christians

AdNags has a formulaic and mostly unobjectionable piece up at the New York Times on the Republican Party’s internal squabbles and fears about how their opposition to gay marriage will play out in the 2016 election.

As you might expect, Nagourney relies heavily on consulting class conservatives for his sources and analysis. These are people who can read the internals of polling data, but they’re also a class of people for whom gay marriage is not a particularly passionate topic.

The basic story is familiar. America, as a whole, has moved rather rapidly to embrace gay marriage and it is widely expected that the Supreme Court, which will hear argument on this topic tomorrow, will soon move to ratify the public’s shift in law. But, when you drill down into the data, you soon discover that Republicans (alone among ideological groups) continue to oppose gay marriage. That might be nearly the end of the story, except that when you drill down still further you find that young Republicans are different. A majority of them differ with their elders and also embrace gay marriage.

“This is an issue that is being decided by demography every single day — 59 percent of Americans support marriage equality, including 52 percent of Republicans under 50 and more than 60 percent of evangelicals under 30 — and also by human experience,” said Ken Mehlman, a businessman who came out as gay after serving as the Republican national chairman. “When people see couples who have married, they see love, they see more stability, they see more commitment and they see more compassionate care for people who are old and are sick and more stable homes where children are being raised.”

Ken Mehlman refers there to 60% of evangelicals under 30 supporting gay marriages, and this suggests to me that the number may be higher for young Republicans as a whole. Without access to the polling data, I can’t be sure how these groups are split out, but the point is that there is a big generational divide within the right. The future seems to be foreordained on this issue, even for the GOP.

Yet, if you turn on Fox News or Hate Radio, or you read right-wing periodicals and blogs, you’ll notice that there’s a bit of full-court press going on at the moment. The idea they’re pushing very hard right now is that opponents of gay marriage are being oppressed and that this constitutes an overt and aggressive war on Christians and Christianity itself. The president is portrayed as the alternatively atheistic or Muslim leader of this war, and the Supreme Court is coming under preemptive fire, but it’s the so-called “Gaystapo” or “Gay Mafia” and the liberal left who are the primary villains in this story of martyrdom.

It’s hard to separate true passion from cynicism in this media campaign, as both are present in large supply. What’s a bit easier to assess is the effect. The predominantly older white conservatively Christian audience for this barrage is being told in a very repetitive and aggressive manner that their way of life is under siege. And it’s not just media that is engaging in this rhetoric. Many of the putative Republican candidates for the presidency are pushing this line, too. Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have gone so far as to suggest that the Supreme Court’s ruling (presuming it favors gay marriage) should not be respected.

Let’s pause here for a moment to talk about Senator Cruz since he’s in the news on this subject and what he’s saying is fairly representative of what right-wing media have been saying.

In the likely event that the Supreme Court brings marriage equality to all 50 states this summer, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) wants to strip the entire federal judiciary of its power to hear cases brought by same-sex couples seeking the right to marry, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Cruz’s remarks came during a speech in Sioux City, Iowa, where the tea party senator also praised the original, more discrimination-friendly version of Indiana’s new “religious liberty” law, and claimed that a cabal of liberals and big business endorsed a “radical gay marriage agenda” which says that “any person of faith is subject to persecution if they dare” disagree with marriage equality.

Now, let’s put aside any possible merits to Cruz’s argument. What is the likely result of sending these kinds of messages to the conservative base of the country in a presidential election season?

I think this polarizes the electorate at the same time that it corrodes acceptance of the legitimacy of our most important political and legal institutions.

And, perhaps unfortunately, the Democrats have little reason to discourage this kind of behavior for a variety of reasons. First, they have the majority position. Second, they are on the right side of history and well-positioned for the future. And, third, it is one area of real strength with independents.

During the 2016 campaign, Mr. [Glen] Bolger [a Republican pollster] said, he thought same-sex marriage would fade as an issue. Still, he said, a key question is whether independent voters, who strongly support same-sex marriage, end up considering its importance when the time comes to vote.

“Independents are the vanguard — they are the tip of the spear on this,” he said. “This is one of those issues where independents look more like Democrats. It’s one of the few issues where they do.”

I think the Dems are better positioned with independents than Mr. Bolger does, but he’s correct to identify this as probably the starkest issue advantage the Democrats have with that cohort. So, we shouldn’t expect the Democrats to let this wedge go untapped. Even if the Republicans were inclined to gloss over their differences and focus on other things, the Dems won’t allow it.

I say that this is unfortunate not because the Democrats are wrong or even responsible for this debate, but because it’s a phony and temporary war that will help the Republicans rally their base while alienating everyone else. It will also exacerbate racial/tribal thinking on the right and further diminish their respect for government and the legitimacy of our courts and justice system.

It’s bad leadership on the right’s part that might mobilize their supporters but not in a good way. It makes them worse people, and it will make it harder for the rest of us to deal with them later.

And, no matter what the right does, they can’t propagandize their way out of the fact that this issue divides them.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.