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The GOP’s Mercenary Evolution on Same-Sex Marriage

I want to clarify upfront that I am in favor of equality for all, almost regardless of how we get there. It wasn’t so long ago (I’m thinking of the 2004 George W. Bush vs. John Kerry Presidential election) that my young liberal heart feared that discrimination against the LGBTQ community would be written into our nation’s venerable Constitution.

The Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) was conceived by Republican leaders in the runup to the 2004 election as a social wedge issue. A disingenuous diversion from the real conversation many Americans wanted to have – how to resolve the Iraq quagmire, the expensive war of choice – the opportunity to use the marginalization of gay citizens as a method of uniting the right wing base ultimately proved irresistible to the era’s “compassionate” conservatives.

The story wasn’t much different by the time we came around to President Obama’s successful 2012 reelection bid. Just under two years after the historical repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy toward the enlistment of gay and lesbian soldiers, the Republican party continued to offer a platform offensive to any and all supporters of equal rights for every American. An August 29, 2012 Associated Press report directly quoted the GOP’s official stance: “The platform affirms the rights of states and the federal government not to recognize same-sex marriage. It backs a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Well it’s a new year and the Republican Party would now like you to believe that its’ stance on this key issue is “evolving,” – yes, the very same sort of transition for which the party once mocked the POTUS. Christian Science Monitor published an article last week purporting to take a closer look at the discourse surrounding LGBTQ issues at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The sub-header of this piece framed the debate as an internal struggle between emerging conservative candidates who might actually like to win an election someday and the stubborn old guard committed to critically slow suicide. Brad Knickerbocker writes, “Some Republicans worry that the GOP may be alienating the next generation of young conservatives if the party continues to oppose gay marriage.”

A number of polls have confirmed that a majority of American voters now support same-sex marriage. In a normal Darwinian political climate, one might assume Republicans are coming around due to the twin influences of cultural normalization and a need for electoral survival. But that sort of logical thinking is checked when one remembers the party’s embarrassing, ongoing backslide surrounding woman’s issues. A woman’s Constitutional right to control her own body was affirmed in 1973, yet rhetoric from Republican candidates throughout the 2012 election cycle often hearkened back to 1950s water cooler talk, bemoaning hard-earned female advances in family planning autonomy.

So what is really behind the Republican party’s incremental about face on the subject of same-sex marriage? I would offer that the evolution is based on the one important resource we can always count on the GOP to covet: money. Simply put, once you remove corporate contributions and the corrosive influence of various industry lobbyists, the party of obstructionism is running out of individual donors to tap. They have successfully alienated the majority of young, female, African-American, Latino and Asian voters. Our own Jason Easley wrote a February 19 post for this site entitled, House Democrats Crush Republicans With Their Best Fundraising Month Ever. The writing is on the wall for the GOP. With an urgent need to convey the perception of populist appeal, the easiest cherry to pick is a slow warmth toward marriage parity.

As stated in the opening paragraph, whatever moves lawmakers toward the legislative codification of equality is welcome, but I stop short of lauding the Republican party for its pivot as a sign of general dogmatic progress. After all, it must be remembered that key figures like former Vice President Dick Cheney and Ohio Senator Rob Portman only threw their tenuous support behind marriage equality when it became a choice between the hard line and repudiating their own children. This is the party of unlimited greed, not human equity.

Becky Sarwate

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