The unforeseen grassroots fusion of conservatives and libertarians in the aftermath of Mitt Romney's bruising defeat in the 2012 presidential election has some more traditional Republicans shaking their heads. But the recent coalescence of these oft-competing factions within the GOP should come as no surprise as many in the party are desperate to chart a new direction. After all, it was libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, who walked away with a straw poll victory at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference; a win that looked to be the feather in his filibuster cap.
There is indeed an identity crisis within the GOP, and admitting it publicly was exactly what the Republican National Committee did when it released an "autopsy" report last month. The 97-page self-assessment commissioned by RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, known as the Growth and Opportunity Project report, is an attempt to repackage the party as an altogether more inclusive and less reactionary institution. Among other calls for change, the report presses Republicans to think differently about the issue of same-sex marriage, fearing that coveted young voters are tuning out because of the perception that the party is "totally intolerant of alternative points of view." "Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about issues involving the treatment and rights of gays," the report says. "[A]nd for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be."
Young voters in this country hold the key to political victories on the big stage, but they are a savvy bunch and courting them is far from a science. To be sure, they are easily turned off by the musty incivility of mudslinging and smear campaigns, and utterly detest sequesters and cliffs that are fiscal. Social media has plugged them into a world of compassion, decreasingly vanilla and increasingly small. Because we are so intimately connected through our computers and smartphones, perhaps some new collective consciousness has permeated our society while we were asleep, one acutely aware of what it means to be human. These days, young Americans are quite comfortable with the differences between us that aren't material. Do we need any more evidence of this than the recent CBS News Poll that shows 73% of people aged 18-29 are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage?
As the nation waits on the Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, there has never been a more opportune time for the GOP to embrace the view of the libertarian arm of the party, and stand shoulder to shoulder with an overwhelming number of Democrats in support of same-sex marriage.
Ironically, the Republican Party already has in place the ideological infrastructure to support marriage equality. Central to conservatism are the time-honored pillars of individual liberty and personal responsibility. I cannot think of a compact between people more free than the kind that lets you choose whom you want spend the rest of your life with, just as I cannot conceive of an institution requiring a greater sense of solemnity and personal responsibility than that of marriage. Republicans should heed the call of their autopsy report and take a stand based on these core values before the high court acts. Jumping on the bandwagon when the inevitable comes to pass will only be seen as a cheap and desperate electoral grab.
There are, however, at least a few Republican lawmakers who have parted ways with the party bosses on this issue. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, supports an alternative way to achieve marriage equality, albeit one that removes the word "marriage" altogether. According to Amash, "government should not be in the business of defining or redefining marriage." Like Rand Paul, he favors the repeal of the portion of DOMA that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Amash would instead like to see laws that are "marriage neutral."
While unlikely, the most sweeping ruling in either case before the Supreme Court would be one that invokes the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This would effectively declare all bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, a ruling that would apply to all 50 states in one fell swoop. Of course, if that were to be the case, religious institutions would still be able to deny marriage to homosexual couples pursuant to the First Amendment. However, there are a growing number of progressive churches in the United States open to officiating same-sex marriages.
Regardless of the approach, any public policy or law that places a badge of inferiority on certain "less desirable" personal relationships should be struck down. Marriage as a form of expression is a civil, if not an inherent, right; and love must not be boxed in by government-built fences. At the end of the day, the words and promise of the Constitution will only be realized when we achieve a state of blind liberty.