When President Obama was re-elected last month, it not only set up another four years of the most pro-LGBT president in U.S. history but it also sent a cold splash of water streaming down the faces of the Republican Party as a stern wake-up call, particularly in presidential politics. The post-mortems continue among GOP operatives and politicians as to how they managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.In President Obama, this was one of the most vulnerable incumbents in recent memory. He was the steward of a slow-to-recover economy with unemployment hovering around 8 percent. There were reports that his base was nowhere as enthusiastic as his supporters were during the historic run in 2008. His rival’s backers were hell-bent on defeating Mr. Obama, very motivated, and thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Citizens United case, unlimited amounts of big money were raised to defeat the president.
The president prevailed. There are almost as many reasons why Mr. Romney lost (and why Mr. Obama won) as there are people offering them. We can parse the exit polling, analyze demographics, compare the technological advantages the Obama team had in the get-out-the-vote efforts and the miscues of the challenger and still not have the full picture.But one factor that is emerging is that there is an internal struggle within the Republican Party between the doctrinaire ideologues and the pragmatists, with the latter projecting long-term doom for the GOP unless it softens its hard-line stances on such issues as immigration, women’s rights, and same-sex marriage.
Speaking from the pragmatist side of the GOP, veteran Republican consultant Mike Murphy in a recent piece in TIME magazine wrote, “The alternative is a more secular and modernizing conservatism that eschews most social issues to focus on creating a wide-open opportunity society that promises greater economic freedom and the reform of government institutions like schools that are vital to upward social mobility.” Even the big funders are frustrated, says Murphy, because of the “party’s perceived focus on divisive social issues.”If the Republicans are serious about remaining a viable force at the national level it will need to become more pragmatic and less dogmatic. The era of Lee Atwater’s cozy relationship with the religious right in the 1980’s to gain Republican votes and Karl Rove’s use of social wedge issues (i.e. “gay marriage”) in the 2000’s to strip votes away from Democrats may be coming to a close.
For that to happen, the Tea Party must weaken and more pragmatic conservatives must replace them. Abortion, contraceptives and same-sex marriage would have to be taken off the table. Republicans must try to persuade voters with their brand of economic conservatism, not social dogma.
Enter the Supremes
LGBT folks could stand to benefit should such a radical transformation ever take place. The country’s continued movement towards support for same-sex marriage is not only a signal for the GOP faithful to hop on the rainbow bus, but it could also provide a critical social backdrop as the right-leaning Supreme Court hears arguments in March on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. The question of the validity of same-sex marriage will finally be answered. Some have already dubbed this the gay rights equivalent of Roe v. Wade.Legal experts have agreed that the Supreme Court considers public opinion in their deliberations. The trend is going in the right direction. Obviously the young voters of today will be participating in more elections than older conservative citizens.
So when a recent Gallup poll indicated that a whopping 73 percent in the 18-29 age group support same-sex marriage, that should send a strong signal as to how society is changing as well as the other data showing increasing support from the general population. The Justices will also be cognizant of the three states that voted for marriage equality and one which turned back a constitutional amendment at the ballot box.Congress’ movement on social matters tend to lag behind the general public; therefore, political considerations for electoral politics notwithstanding, it is unlikely, but not impossible, that progress could finally be made on an all-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, for example. Lawmakers can observe that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in 2010 did not result in any negative impact on the military’s readiness, unit cohesion or effectiveness. More to the point, there was little outcry from the citizens when the nefarious law was finally repealed.
One thing is for certain, any action on ENDA or the Congressional repeal of DOMA known as the Respect for Marriage Act will not take place until the Supreme Court decides on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. As soon as the news broke about the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the cases, activists from all over the country believed that the days of DOMA are about to come to an end. The Prop 8 situation is more questionable because the Court can rule against Prop 8 but narrowly or its ruling can have a broader impact.If either or both turn out to be favorable, the good news is expected to be delivered in June—just in time for most of the U.S. to celebrate Gay Pride.