This week's historic rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court on DOMA and Proposition 8 prompted well-deserved celebrations from gays and lesbians across the country. By allowing federal benefits for LGBT spouses and freeing marriage in the country's largest state, the court vindicated the decades-long work of non-profit advocacy organizations, the plaintiffs, their lawyers, and the community at large. In the short term, these groups will benefit from the afterglow of the rulings -- but in the long term, the Republican party may actually be the big winner, depending on which of three possible approaches they leverage.
The first available lever is to use the ruling as a rallying cry against "judicial activism," aligning themselves further with religious conservatives. Just as they have done with Obamacare, house Republicans can repeatedly surface anti-gay marriage bills as a symbolic gesture knowing they will be shot down. With the support of gerrymandered districts, this should be a no-brainer for some legislators. On the state and local levels, politicians may further attempt to turn back gay rights, positioning them as a counterbalance to the Federal attempts to undermine their morals (see Christie). The big losers in this game are LGBT folks in Republican strongholds, who may endure a decade or more of increased hardship until the high court hears the (likely) "real" gay marriage case that would make it the law of the land.
Of course, that's the expected course of action. But SCOTUS has also handed Republicans a major victory in opening the doors to gay money. Sure, there have always been gay Republicans like the Log Cabin, but they are fairly marginalized and easily dismissed. With the upending of DOMA, a smart Republican party could simply wash its hands, treat gay marriage as a fait accompli ("Those damn judges!") and turn its attention to bringing in wealthy, white gay men who'd be likely to vote with their pocketbooks if only the GOP would stop persecuting their lifestyles.
It sounds extreme, but I've met scores of gays who would change their votes to Republican in a heartbeat if they just focused on the economy. Once they feel safe in the world, these men are likely to start acting and voting more overtly like the rich guys they resemble, rather than the poor, often Latino and Black, half-female, ragtag coalition that supports liberal causes and Democrats. Although it sounds cynical, it's foolish to expect a higher standard of inclusiveness from gay men simply because they are (or were) persecuted.
Unfortunately, because white gay male money funds a lot of LGBT social justice causes, the big losers from this strategy would be gay people of color, women and specific non-profits, such as those focused on immigration reform. A craven Republican party could weaken the strength of a broad swath of socially progressive causes with a single strategy, even potentially loosening Liberals' grip on Hollywood by making it "Ok to be Republican" through example.
The last potential GOP strategy seems least likely, but also potentially most devastating in the long run: they could stand up, look America in the eye, and apologize. In the time honored tradition of celebrities and politicians caught with their pants down, GOP leaders could express their contrition at being on the wrong side of history. A senior leader like Boehner, speaking directly to camera on the morning talk shows, asking America's moms for forgiveness would be extraordinarily powerful. If combined with a personal story of gay sons and daughters and a sincere expression of guilt, remorse and desire to make the party better, they could easily siphon millions of votes and billions of dollars. After all, there's nothing America likes better than a story of rebirth.
The big loser in this scenario would be the Democratic party, an organization that has made up for poor strategy, weak political muscle and a decided lack of theatrical flair simply by not being Republican. Because the coalition that supports Democrats is so diverse, and Democrats themselves accept more dissent, the party would be immeasurably weakened by any "principled" move Republicans make toward the center, especially if it's accompanied by clear eyed anti-waste, anti-corruption, pro-business sentiment.
Of course, none of these are likely to happen in the current GOP, a party so philosophically and politically dysfunctional that many have written it off for the next decade or longer. Even in the case of gay marriage and non-discrimination, where polling has shown years of consistent majorities or pluralities in favor of equality, the intransigent Republicans in Washington have failed to seize their moment. They are -- after all -- supposed to be the party of personal freedom and liberty. What better way to define freedom than the right to love who you choose? But no, they have increasingly let issues like gay rights -- once a wedge that propelled them to power -- further the perception that they are out of touch old guys with little care or compassion.
And while I'm sure Democratic party leaders are planning ways to leverage this win for their own benefit, and social justice organizations are spending a well-deserved day or two to bask in its glory, I'd encourage them not to be complacent. Remembering that the coalition that's brought them here is tenuous at best will serve them will in their strategy for the next election and fundraising cycle. Now's the time to make clear connections between things like DOMA and the Voting Rights Act -- even if rich gay people are mostly white. They must continue to press for humane, comprehensive immigration reform -- even if gay people can now bring their spouses. And they must remind their core supporters -- whether gay or straight, white or not, young or old -- that too many fights still need to be fought, and the battle is far from over.
Otherwise the GOP, even just through people's apathy and complacency, may weaken the powerful groundswell of support that's gotten us this far. And that's bad for everyone.