Tuesday, Idaho (my home state) became the latest state to see its gay marriage ban struck down. Predictably, Republican Governor Butch Otter pushed for a stay on the decision and promised to appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary. As a young conservative, I see the ruling in different terms. I see it, and the many other judicial decisions that preceded it, as a step towards real equality and getting government out of people’s lives. To boot, this step towards equality does not require massive new spending or regulations. Further, the courts may be saving the GOP from itself.
It is no secret that young Americans lean socially left, particularly on gay marriage. The one issue they appear as polarized on as prior generations is abortion. In 2012, Millennials made up a significant share of the electorate and it is little wonder why, during a tough reelection, the President suddenly supported gay marriage (he won 60% of their vote in 2012). He knew marriage equality is an issue these younger voters care about. The GOP, on the other hand, seems blind to this reality.
Republicans better get the message and soon. A Pew survey in 2013 found 70% of Millennials support gay marriage. Pew also sports a cool, interactive table on gay marriage by state here. The DC based Public Religion Research Institute released a survey that showed a bare plurality of Millennial Christians, 44%, supported gay marriage. What is striking from both surveys is that no other generational group supports gay marriage. Both surveys found a majority of all respondents supported workplace discrimination laws and protections for gays by large margins.
From a political perspective it is understandable why the GOP may be unwilling to touch the gay marriage issue. The party consists of many deeply Christian Southerners and alienating them would make winning national elections impossible (not just extremely difficult). But with the advent of the Tea Party and the reemerge of the liberation wing of the GOP the party’s best chance might be now. Incremental shifts in the party can be seen with Rand Paul, Lisa Murkowski and Rob Portman supporting marriage equality. The GOP has openly gay candidates running in Southern California and New Hampshire for two competitive Congressional districts.
This is where the courts come in. Whether or not Republicans are willing to admit it the courts are doing the party a favor. By legalizing gay marriage the courts are defusing the issue for the party. Democrats will have a harder case painting the GOP as a party of old, white, anti-gay men and women and Republicans can avoid having to legalize it in many deeply religious states. Meanwhile, the libertarian wing of the GOP can talk this up in trying to remake the party’s image (look up Rand Paul going to hostile college campuses).
The courts can only carry the party so far. The more the GOP fights the inertia of gay marriage the more they suffer. It is little secret the party has lost many libertarians that agree with its fiscal message but disagree with its social platform due to gay marriage. In contrast to an issue like abortion that polarizes the electorate, gay marriage has seen the opposite. More and more individuals are being drawn to support it even among older generations (see Pew link above).
Beyond politics conservatives and Republicans should understand that being true to small government principles means not dictating to individuals who they can and cannot marry. That should be an issue decided between two consenting adults and churches. The GOP only hurts itself by fighting this principle. The courts are helping the GOP return to its libertarian roots. The party has to accept their help and acknowledge that marriage equality is inevitable. The party can either accept it or be swept away with the tide of history!