On paper you'd think a 42-year-old Republican would be up to speed on marriage rights, and that he might even be tolerant, given his age. But to my surprise, not only is Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, U.S. Congressman Paul D. Ryan from Wisconsin, no ally to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) communities, but he's completely ignorant of our struggles.
When it comes to the issue of marriage equality, Ryan has consistently voted it down. In defending his stalwart advocacy for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, Ryan stated:
I believe fundamentally that marriage is between a man and a woman. Although I support the constitutional amendment to protect marriage, that process cannot continue at this time given the failed attempt by the U.S. Senate to advance the amendment. Meanwhile, states could be forced to accept same-sex marriages because of a few judges in Massachusetts.
Ryan made that statement in September 2004, just four months after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts. In 2012 his position hasn't altered. When Ryan was asked once again about his stance on same-sex marriage, on Meet the Press in February, he stated that he "supported the Wisconsin amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman."
One of Romney's objectives in selecting Ryan is to entice young voters, a constituency Romney hopes will come out for his ticket in November in numbers comparable to that of Obama's 2008 campaign. Having a young, energetic, and relatable candidate like Ryan revs up Romney's campaign, which has been uninspiring to younger conservative voters. But Ryan is an outlier for a generation of young conservatives, especially when it comes to his stance on LGBTQ social issues. His barometer on queer social issues is not only way off but out of lockstep with young social conservatives, who have clearly articulated that discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to marry is not the government's business.
"I don't really care about the social stuff," Millersville University student Jordan Smith told reporter Lauren Fox of U.S. News. "I think it's big government when the government tells you who you can and cannot marry and that's not conservative."
For this younger generation of conservatives exposed to same-gender families, classmates, peers, educators, etc., and some who are LGBTQ themselves, the focus is on issues like the economy, jobs, and the military.
"We're worried about getting jobs after graduation," Lindsay Matera, a freshman at Roger Williams University, told U.S. News. "Gay marriage isn't as important of an issue for me."
With exposure to LGBTQ people, and with more and more Americans wanting LGBTQ members in their families to receive the same state and federal protections as every heterosexual American, a seismic shift has occurred. The increasing acceptance of gay marriage has a lot to do with public acceptance of LGBTQ people. A 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that 58 percent of the American populace believes LGBTQ people should be accepted. And the latest Pew survey found a "47 to 43 percent plurality favoring gay marriage, with as many Americans saying they strongly favor (22 percent) as saying they strongly oppose (22 percent)," according to Pew Research Center president Andrew Kohut. Much of this change in attitude toward LGBTQ Americans is both generational and cultural.
In attempting to deflect attention from the topic of same-sex marriage, Ryan brought more attention to it, revealing how he's not up-to-date.
"If I recall from the last presidential campaign, President Obama and Vice President Biden said that they support marriage as being between a man and a woman," Ryan said on Meet the Press in February. "So I don't know why we are spending all this time talking about this."
Whereas both Obama and Biden have now come out in support of marriage equality, in the last presidential election it would have been political suicide to support it. This November it may be a risk not to.
As chair of the House and Budget Committee, Ryan wants to focus on his strong suit, the nation's financial crisis, and not have his campaign bid be bogged down with social issues, like abortion, women's health, and same-sex marriage. But even social issues have an economic component, and legalizing same-sex marriage brings fiscal benefits -- on both state and federal levels.
On a state level, the evidence is obvious. Same-sex couples are an untapped consumer base that would rev up revenues from marriage license fees, rings, hotels, restaurants, wedding venues, and divorces, to name a few sources. In arguing the case for marriage equality for Rhode Island, the Williams Institute at UCLA's Law School found that same-sex couples had the potential to generate an additional $1.2 million for the state over a three-year period. Moreover, in the first five years after same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004, our state coffers increased by an additional $111 million. On a federal level, if all 50 states legalized same-sex marriage, the revenue would net $1 billion a year over a decade, according to a 2004 report by Congressional Budget Office, an office Ryan is familiar with.
For a man so interested in balancing America's budget, you'd think the revenue stream from marriage equality might catch Ryan up to Biden.