One thing that I have learned as a parent of two 10-year-old boys is that when a child says he wants one thing, he may be secretly hoping that he doesn't get it. His voice may quiver as he asks for it, while his eyes may say, "Get me out of this mess, Daddy!" That is kind of what is happening these days with the GOP when it comes to their former favorite wedge issue, marriage equality for same-sex couples.
It harkens back to Election Night 2012. Not only did we see victories for President Obama and four state marriage equality initiatives, but the Republicans had no clue that their loss was coming. Led by Karl Rove and others, they were unaware that their courtship with the anti-gay religious right, which had elected George W. Bush and kept him in office, had now passed its expiration date and was going sour fast. Older Republicans, the demographic most likely to be anti-gay, were dying off, and younger and previously disenfranchised voters were now mobilized thanks to social media. More significantly, independent voters and many of the GOP's own constituents were becoming educated on what real LGBTQ families look like and who we are, and as a result, they were overcoming the fear on which Rove and his cronies banked.
Still, like my sons do on occasion, the GOP persists in pursuing something that they know is not really good for them. With marriage equality now before the Supreme Court, they have filed briefs that contain weak arguments, practically begging the court, "Get our party out of this mess!" It is unclear how the Supreme Court will rule.
The GOP seems to subconsciously seek failure so that marriage equality can roll out, and then, a few years hence, they can claim they were for it all along. That instinct is right. They should be secretly praying for a comprehensive, no-holds-barred pro-marriage-equality ruling. The viability of their political future depends upon it. Here are five reasons why:
1. They will stop scaring straight couples away from marriage. Arguably, the anti-gay rhetoric around what marriage is has inconsistent, with each argument formed in a vacuum and contradicting other anti-marriage-equality arguments. However, they share a common theme, the idea that marriage should emulate a 1950s ideal, with a macho, breadwinning husband and a feminine, bread-baking wife. Not only does each spouse have his or her role assigned by gender, but neither is to assume independence beyond those roles. Straight people have to be listening to these expectations and deciding either that such restrictions are not for them or that a real, working relationship does not require marriage. I believe that it's more the latter, but either way, the anti-marriage-equality crowd is doing a poor job of selling "traditional marriage," even to their own.
2. They can cease having to associate with people who are PR nightmares. It can't be lost on Republican insiders who their bedmates in this issue are. All they have to do is look within the stack of anti-marriage-equality amicus briefs waiting for review at the Supreme Court, which includes briefs by the Westboro Baptist Church and the Catholic Church hierarchy. Westboro has an image of nastiness for picketing the funerals of the fallen heroes of our wars, as well as those of the fallen heroes of the AIDS crisis. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has just seen its sacrosanct leader abdicate amid rumors of mismanagement of the child sex abuse scandal. These are the people the Republicans want to be associated with, and they think they can still maintain mainstream America's interest? Not a chance.
3. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, the Republican Party can point its fingers at "activist judges" and thus sidestep the wrath of their own base. Such a ruling would allow the Republican powers that be to bat their eyes and say to their base, "Darn those activist judges! Here we submitted our [weakly argued] briefs and gave it a good [well, they showed up, sort of] fight. Darn those awful [Republican-appointed] justices! But hey, lets talk about the economy now." Their hardcore base will then find itself in a conundrum that the LGBTQ community is very familiar with: One party pays your issues lip service while the other party wages war on them. The lip-service guys win. The Supreme Court can offer the GOP an opportunity to sharpen its lip-service skills. The more reasonable part of the base will accept it. According to a new study by Respect for Marriage, many of them already are.
4. Once marriage equality is no longer a divisive issue, the GOP can start luring the Democratic base. Sure, there are the Log Cabin Republicans and GOProud, but the fact is that 76 percent of people who identify as LGBTQ could not bring themselves to see past Republican anti-gay rhetoric in the last election. If that rhetoric gets dropped, then the GOP can start going after the family-oriented, career-minded, white-picket-fence people who happen to be LGBTQ or LGBTQ-friendly. LGBTQ people are philosophically diverse. Satisfy us on the one issue that unites us, and a percentage of us will be recruitable.
5. They will have more money. I have to admit that for me, one of the most satisfying things about November was learning how much conservative cash was flushed down the political drain of "no effect." Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent without a single return on the investment. That won't keep happening, unfortunately, and the Citizens United ruling and the "corporations are people" concept are still alive. But investments of conservative cash in issues other than marriage equality will not be so ineffectual, and then the party will have the extra cash to go after different issues. Somewhere in the Republican Party, there has got to be a fiscally minded constituency that thinks that this is a good thing.
As a progressive, I am not overjoyed at the prospect of a better-funded, more diverse Republican Party, even though I think that it will be healthier for our country in the long run and for my sons' future. I also could be completely naïve. The Supreme Court could issue a comprehensive victory for marriage equality, and the GOP might miss the silver lining they have been handed and continue down their road to waste and decline.
One can hope.