Have we reached a “tipping point” in the battle over same-sex marriage? And, if so, what does that say about those who are still fighting desperately to block equality from becoming the law of the land?
In early October, the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages in such hardcore “red” states as Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Three other states that are part of the circuit appeals court jurisdiction—Colorado, Kansas, and North Carolina—may soon succumb to the ruling. No state has yet declared plans to secede because of legalized gay marriage.
Sometimes court decisions lead popular opinion, as with the 1956 Brown decision desegregating U.S. schools. On the issue of same-sex marriage, however, U.S. courts are following—and essentially legitimizing—public sentiment. More importantly, they are not seeking to block the inevitable. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 49 percent of Americans favor same-sex marriage, while 41 percent oppose it. A decade ago, in 2004, Pew found that 60 percent of Americans opposed gay marriage, while 31 percent supported it. Perhaps most revealing, The Washington Post reported in 2013 that 81 percent of people under 30 support same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage is no longer the “hot button” culture war issue it once was. A decade ago, it divided the nation almost as bitterly as abortion and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even as the war against a woman’s right to choose and the permanent war complex grind on, homosexuality is no longer a sin, a psychopathology, or a criminal offense. Gay marriage is now legal in 32 states; homosexuality is formally accepted in the U.S. military; celebrities, athletes, CEOs, and politicians are “out”; and virtually every family has a relative, friend, or neighbor who is gay.
Republicans have been notably mum on the Court’s recent ruling. Homosexuality has long been a rallying point in the white, conservative, Christian, Republican community. But no longer?
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker swallowed hard, “For us, it’s over in Wisconsin.” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said nothing publically about the Court decision. However, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) is one of the few Republicans who has come out in support of same-sex marriage. Last year, he announced that his son is gay and then reversed his longtime opposition to same-sex marriage. Not all Republican stalwarts are so humane.
Pew’s survey revealed that Republicans who back same-sex marriage are a minority—only one-third (34%). More revealing, three-fourths (75%) of Republicans are white evangelicals who oppose gay marriage. They play an influential role in the early Republican presidential primaries, especially in Iowa and South Carolina.
Giving voice to this sentiment, Maggie Gallagher, a senior fellow at the American Principals Project and a longtime opponent of same-sex marriage, said, “This is the new norm in the Republican Party, playing down social issues.” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) assailed the Court’s decisions as “both tragic and indefensible.” He vowed to introduce a constitutional amendment “to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws.”
The issue of same-sex marriage plays a critical role in four pivotal state elections: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia.
- Colorado – An April Quinnipiac University survey found that three out of five (61%) Coloradans support gay marriage, compared to one third (33%) who oppose it. Sen. Mark Udall (D) supports gay marriage; his opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner (R), played down the issue, saying, “we must honor their legal decisions.”
- Kansas – The state’s two long-term Republican stalwarts, Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback, are discredited and face serious challenges. Roberts supports a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and last week sent a mailing to 300,000 voters criticizing independent candidate Greg Orman, endorsed by Equality Kansas, an LGBT group. Brownback recently spoke out against same-sex marriage at a rally.
- North Carolina – The Court overturned a state approved ban on same-sex marriage, but the fight by local Republican office holders continues. Senate candidate Thom Tillis (R), who’s running against Sen. Kay Hagen (D), opposes same-sex marriage; Hagan did not issue a statement regarding the Court decision.
- Virginia – The Court’s decision struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, and Sen. Mark Warner (D) supported the decision. His opponent, Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee, previously supported a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage; he recently took the high road and accepted the Court’s decision, but says he continues to oppose gay marriage.
Same-sex marriage was once, not so long ago, an impossible legal hurdle. Now, 32 states permit such marriages and, in all likelihood, the remaining 18 states will eventually be compelled to accept this new historical reality as well. Same-sex marriage still matters in a handful of key elections, but will it matter in the 2016 presidential run? Stay tuned.
David Rosen regularly contributes to AlterNet, Brooklyn Rail, Filmmaker, IndieWire, and Salon. His website is DavidRosenWrites.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.