WASHINGTON -- In a sweeping advancement of civil rights, the Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage bans were unconstitutional. Republican strategists and supporters of same-sex marriage promptly encouraged the party to shut the hell up.
It’s hardly a secret within the GOP ranks that their platform opposing same-sex marriage is increasingly on the wrong side of history and public opinion. The immediate hope among many was that their lawmakers would take the court's 5-4 ruling as a convenient out -- a chance to neutralize a wedge issue without having to actually take a vote or pass a law.
“It really, I believe, hurts the brand of the party if this is an issue candidates raise at the forefront. We can win young people, who we desperately need to win, and people who are economically disadvantaged if we talk about a message of growth and opportunity that included everybody,” said Pat Brady, the former Illinois GOP chairman and a supporter of gay marriage. “If we try to use this as a wedge, it will hurt the brand badly.”
“I would hope the Republican Party will move on,” said Mary Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, who said she would be celebrating the decision by eating hot dogs and burgers with her wife and children in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “We have an awful lot of issues and problems facing our country today. Stopping two women or men from getting married is not one of them.”
Early reactions from the Republican presidential field suggest that Brady and Cheney aren’t entirely shouting into the wind. Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) quickly pledged not to pursue “a divisive effort that would be doomed to fail” against the Supreme Court’s decision, but rather to commit himself “to ensuring the protection of religious liberties of all Americans.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said that “good people who have opposing views should be able to live side by side.” Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) said he disagreed with the decision but recognized that the country had to “abide by the law.”
But those reactions came from just one side of the Republican spectrum. On the other, Gov. Scott Walker (Wis.) called for an amendment to the Constitution to “reaffirm the ability of the states to continue to define marriage.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called the ruling “judicial tyranny.” And Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal offered, well, this:
Marriage between a man and a woman was established by God, and no earthly court can alter that.
This decision will pave the way for an all-out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision. This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.
Those on the sidelines of the presidential race recognized why this was happening. Some of the leading GOP contenders are sincere cultural conservatives. Others are more crass opportunists eager to appeal to the social conservative factions in the early primary states. The question wasn’t whether some would continue fighting this particular culture war; it was how much collateral damage would be done in the process.
“How many Republicans have declared? I mean, there are certainly a handful of them who will demagogue to the far right on this, and that would be a mistake. It would be a mistake for our party, frankly,” said Aaron McLear, a former spokesman for George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Though support for gay marriage is clearly trending upward, it is not an article of faith among opponents that they are doomed to sociopolitical defeat. Republicans have softened on the issue, but they still opposed to the concept of the Supreme Court outlawing state gay marriage bans. In his dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Antonin Scalia went out of his way to paint his colleagues as coastal elitists, the product of Ivy League institutions who arrogantly determined that their own world view should be the law of the land.
Public opinion polls suggest there is something to this general point, though it’s not nearly as clear as Scalia thinks. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, there are only 13 states where support for gay marriage is below 45 percent (and 18 states below 50 percent). And the demographic blocks who oppose it are the ones closer to death.
For these reasons, many on Friday suggested that Republicans had been handed a gift -- or as The New Republic’s Brian Beutler put it, “Conservatives should praise God for the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.”
It's why the pushback to some of the party's more outspoken anti-gay marriage members was so swift.
Has Bobby Jindahl lost his mind?
— Steven Lombardo (@LombardoSteven) June 26, 2015
And it is why GOP strategists are now watching anxiously, in hopes that no one of real stature will say something deeply regrettable. The fallout, one operative plainly put it, “depended on how our candidates act. We could have morons making us seem even more out of touch.”