As counterintuitive as it may sound, it seems safe to predict that this week's Supreme Court rulings that overturn key sections of the terribly misnamed Defense of Marriage Act and uphold marriage equality in California will result in more gay Americans deciding to vote Republican. No matter how controversial they appear in the short-term and no matter how many silly things my fellow Republicans say, there's little doubt that the decisions herald an unstoppable trend towards full legal equality for same-sex relationships. Once that's established, the fundamental reasons for gay Americans to vote as they do will vanish.
Of course, most conservatives are now on the wrong side of history when it comes to marriage equality. And, for this reason alone, large numbers of gay Americans (between 75 and 80 percent) are reliable Democratic voters. Although former Vice President Dick Cheney has supported marriage equality for longer than President Obama and Republican-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a rather ringing defense of it, the four Justices most beloved to conservatives sadly sided against marriage. While overwhelming majorities of Democrats in Congress now support marriage equality, likewise, fewer than 10 Congressional Republicans have said they do in public.
But, as equal marriage becomes far more widespread and public opinion changes (80 percent of those under 30 support same-sex marriage now) the issue will diminish in significance. And once that happens, it'll be easy to predict that about half of gay Americans will vote for conservative candidates.
The logic is simple: many groups of people vote as they do because they see some intrinsic advantage to a certain set of government services, policies, and tax rates. Gay government workers, urban welfare recipients, abortion doctors, and employees of government-backed "green" energy companies probably ought to vote for Democrats. Likewise, gay small business owners, church-going Christians, two-income families with children, and farmers who rely on federal subsidies (yes, the GOP has its own client groups that want more from government) will generally find that the Republican Party does the best job speaking to them. Being gay probably doesn't make someone more (or less) likely to have any characteristics that identify with one party or another.
LIkewise, the type of family traditions that tend to result in political continuity for other groups -- Jewish Americans are overwhelmingly Democrats in large part because their parents were -- doesn't really exist for gay Americans. Since gay children overwhelmingly have straight parents, there's next-to-no no family tradition or history of being gay. While a distinct gay culture does exist, it's mostly a niche pursuit for single, affluent urbanites. Gay moms and dads who live in the suburbs probably don't frequent urban gay dance clubs any more than straight moms and dads in similar circumstances frequent straight ones.
And some broader factors will also tend to result in more gay people leaning left today will probably also diminish with time. Today, for example, gay people tend to cluster in big cities both because such cities are more tolerant and because, until rather recently, many gay people didn't see married suburban life as a viable option. Since Democrats' policies often tend to advantage cities, this gives at least some gay people reasons unrelated to sexual orientation to vote Democratic. But, as tolerance spreads in suburban and rural areas and more gay people settle down and to live suburban lifestyles, they'll also naturally favor policies that advantage suburbs.
A simple affirmation of that most conservative of all values -- marriage -- could immediately draw millions of gay Americans into the Republican camp. The GOP probably will leave these votes on the table for fear of alienating older voters. But, sooner than most people think, large numbers of gay Americans will be voting Republican.