There is a school of thought that a broad victory for marriage equality at the Supreme Court would galvanize the opposition and end up being a setback for the gay rights movement. I disagree with that. The side that can't afford to win or to lose at the Supreme Court this week is the anti-gay right.
Opposition to gay rights has gone from a vote-winning bread-and-butter issue for Republicans -- think of the 2004 election, when Karl "The Architect" Rove helped to build conservative turnout by placing anti-gay ballot measures in 11 states -- to a major liability. Young people are turning away from the party in part because they are constantly reminded of its exclusionary anti-gay politics, a trend that will only get worse as acceptance for gays continues to become the norm.
Now Rove himself is desperately trying to save the Republican party from itself, threatening to launch primary challenges against Tea Party candidates with extremist views on issues including gay rights, and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus is gently suggesting that the party soften its stance on social issues. There's no evidence that the anti-gay wing of the GOP is going to give up power quietly: the Family Research Council recently reiterated its intention to refuse support to the GOP if Republicans moderate their stance on marriage, and you can bet every Republican official worried about a nasty primary got the message loud and clear.
But as long as gay rights battles remain in the news -- as long as the Republican party feels compelled fight equality state by state -- the GOP will continue to marginalize itself.
The Supreme Court has every reason this spring to rule broadly in support of equality under the law for gays and lesbians. But if it does not, and leaves anti-gay laws where they are, the movement toward equality will continue in legislatures and at the ballot box. If the Supreme Court issues a robust ruling in favor of equality, I bet Karl Rove will be secretly relieved. Either way, the right will lose its battle against gay rights. But the longer and louder that battle is, the more it will hurt the party that has fed it.
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