When will US Republicans realise gay marriage is their natural bedfellow?
Last week heralded the combative return of culture wars which saw the USA’s two main parties fundamentally disagreeing over the nature of marriage. On 9 May, President Barack Obama finally confirmed that he supported gay marriage, ending many years of his much-derided “evolving” position on the subject. While as President he can do nothing to further gay rights, the symbolism was powerful. This issue has suddenly become a potential election game changer. How much political calculation was behind Obama’s change of heart is questionable. Did he jump, or was he pushed?
Nevertheless, with this public admission, Obama has gambled that the issue of gay marriage will not become a liability for the Democrats, and that in losing their more conservative voters, he will be rewarded with vital independent votes and a clear conscience. This contrasts heavily with Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney’s predictable monotone response that marriage is between “one man and one woman”. Such a reply has become typical in a party that has grown accustomed to pandering to US conservatives. But there is a strong case that Republicanism should naturally favour gay rights, and that by staunchly adhering to socially conservative values, Republicans will become increasingly out of touch electorally.
In fact, the Republicans’ seemingly stable relationship with ‘value voters’ is both a relatively new phenomena and a delicate one. The steady, insidious rise of the religious right within the Republican Party over the last 50 years can be seen to directly conflict with core Republican values of individualism and small government. For example, almost 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, the target for America’s social conservatives is not a women’s right to choose, but perplexingly, the government’s.
Similarly, giving government the constitutional power to define what, or more importantly what does not constitute a marriage infringes upon traditional small government values. If social conservatives continue to attack gay marriage with the fervour of years past, they will be ironically and inadvertently undermining more than one and a half centuries of Republican ideology. By being so vehemently traditionalist in their views of marriage, they would rather allow federal government authority to be extended when it could be reduced (lest we forget, something Tea Party Republicans detest) than accept the possibility that two individuals of the same sex, can make the personal choice to marry. Surely, Republicans can see that as long as such a union is consensual, it shouldn’t be the government’s business anyway, but alas, the party continues to listen to the whining of the religious right. Gay marriage has now become one of the biggest issues that can directly expand an individual’s right to personal autonomy, a supposedly Republican ideal; if Republicans continue to remain blind to that, it will become increasingly obvious that they have jettisoned their core principles in favour of populist shouting and political scaremongering.
This is why last week’s ‘Amendment One’ vote in North Carolina was important. It sought to change North Carolina’s state constitution and define the only legitimate ‘domestic legal partnership’ to be one between a man and women. The ballot box showed an overwhelmingly anti-gay sentiment with the ‘Yes’ vote getting 61%. One could perhaps brush aside North Carolina’s decision, by claiming that this is a Southern state with strong evangelical and conservative ties. Yet, the state is ever so quietly undergoing a transformation. As a vital swing state North Carolina mixes its traditional history with a more liberal and tolerant consensus espoused by its progressive educational institutions such as The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University. North Carolina is perhaps the perfect example of the transitional flux that the Republican Party must grapple in order to regain credibility over social issues.
Fortunately, there are indicators within the party that suggest a slow shift from preaching to the converted (quite literally) to becoming a party that could potentially challenge the Democrats on this issue is underway. The (rather eccentrically-named) Log Cabin Republicans are an organization made up of congressmen and women who are all strident Republicans but also extremely active in advocating gay rights. Commentators may still scoff at this seemingly uncomfortable paradox. How one can support gay rights but still vote Republican, they cry. Well, The Log Cabin Republicans address this puzzlement by affirming their position on the gay rights battleground as based on Republican foundations. They argue that gay rights further individual liberty and personal responsibility and therefore align neatly with ideals of Republicanism. It is also true that Libertarians within the Republican Party have long reconciled themselves with gay rights. In fact, the socially progressive Left’s closest ally in this war of rights is the Republican Libertarian right; though Libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul has been noticeably uneasy with supporting gay marriage personally, his policy position is that gay marriage is not the business of the State.
While this remains true, we must ask whether it is actually in the Republicans’ interest to come out for gay rights, and endure the wrath of social conservatives in the process? Well, despite the fact that the gay rights movement can align itself quite naturally with Republicanism, it could also turn out to be a winning electoral combination. It is clear that Romney intends to tow the party line, positioning himself as a completely forgettable party hack, at a time when the Republicans need more vocal radicalism from the mavericks that do exist within the party. What is clear is that if Republicans remain in bed with the Christian Right, they will not only find themselves on the wrong side of history, but they will also be undermining their own history.
Tagged in: Amendment One, Christian, conservative, Democrats, Donkey, Duke University, elephant, gay, gay marriage, Gingrich, GOP, Homosexual, lesbian, LGBTQ, libertarian, Lincoln, Log Cabin Republicans, Mitt Romney, North Carolina, obama, patrnership, president, republicans, Ron Paul, State, UNC Chapel Hill, United States of America, usa, Value Voters, washington
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