I’m really pleased that Obama’s statement that he believes same-sex couples should be allowed to marry is engendering a frank discussion about this issue in America. But what is really interesting is that it is not entirely a conservative v. liberal discussion.
Of course, you would expect conservatives like Andrew Sullivan be in favor of same-sex marriage rights. After all, Sullivan is openly gay and is married. Nevertheless, his Newsweek cover article is definitely worth a read.
But there are other signs that conservatives, who often march in lock-step on social issues, are not of one mind on gay marriage. After all, conservatives are supposed to be for freedom and keeping the government out of your private business.
Other countries have figured this out. Last October, the conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”
Things are a bit slower here in the colonies, but they are nonetheless changing. For the first time in our history, more people support gay marriage than oppose it. Not only that, but both Democratic voters and Independent voters support gay marriage even more strongly, making this a wedge issue that works for the Democratic party, instead of working against it like it has in the past.
But even though Republicans still generally oppose same-sex marriage, the writing is on the wall. Support for gay marriage is now increasing around 5% every year. A leaked memo from a top Republican pollster is telling the GOP that gay marriage is being embraced by the general public and there is no stopping it. If Republicans don’t get on board, they will severely damage their brand. And they are promoting gay marriage as a conservative value, albeit in a private memo:
As people who promote personal responsibility, family values, commitment and stability, and emphasize freedom and limited government we have to recognize that freedom means freedom for everyone. This includes the freedom to decide how you live and to enter into relationships of your choosing, the freedom to live without excessive interference of the regulatory force of government.
Of course there will be a backlash among social conservatives. Indeed, this backlash forced Mitt Romney into a full flip-flop — walking back his comments from just one day earlier on gay adoption, and reaffirming his stance against gay marriage, including promising a constitutional amendment against it — in order to fire up the conservative base. Whether or not this will backfire is anyone’s guess. Indeed, Rand Paul’s crude joke that Obama’s views on gay marriage “couldn’t get any gayer” was sharply rebuked by those very same social conservatives, showing that this issue is not a slam-dunk even for them.
Indeed, even Fox News is sending out mixed messages. Anchor Shepard Smith declared “The president of the United States, now in the twenty-first century.” He even wondered “if Republicans would go out on a limb and try to make this a campaign issue while sitting very firmly, without much question, on the wrong side of history on it.” But at the same time, the headline on the Fox News website shouted “OBAMA FLIP FLOPS, DECLARES WAR ON MARRIAGE.”
One thing seems clear. At some point in the future we will look back on laws prohibiting gay marriage the same way we now look at past laws against interracial marriages. The only question is when.