In 2011, Focus on the Family CEO Jim Daly said that conservatives were losing the battle against gay marriage.
Daly’s organization is a leading conservative non-profit that lobbies to defend families and promote evangelical values. In an interview with World magazine, Mr. Daly admitted, “[Sixty-five] to 70 percent of [20 – 30 year olds] favor same-sex marriage. I don't know if that's going to change with a little more age—demographers would say probably not. We've probably lost that. I don't want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.”
So where exactly does the religious right stand in relation to public opinion about gay marriage? Does the GOP need to cede the gay marriage issue in order to stay relevant?
Let’s look at the numbers. Recent polls dating from the end of 2012 suggest that most Americans slightly favor gay marriage due in large part to a dramatic generational shift and the rise of secularism. A 2012 Pew research center study reports that 64% of millennials approve of gay marriage as compared to 41% of baby boomers. Not so surprising when you realize they grew up on American Bandstand and we grew up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Even so, public acceptance of gay marriage has only shifted in the past eight to 10 years. The Gallup poll, which has been asking the question since 1996, says that support rose to 53% in 2012. On the surface it would seem that things are improving for the gays. After all, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed and Obama mentioned Stonewall in his inaugural address. But the numbers can also be deceiving. With the exemption of New Mexico, state legislation overwhelmingly bans queer partnerships, with only 19 states allowing either gay marriage or civil unions, compared to 30 banning it. And don’t even get me started on the status of gender and sexuality discrimination laws — trust me the stats are grim.
Even if our state and federal laws are playing catch-up it does seem that our culture has shifted and the Christian right has noticed. If we learned one thing from the 2012 election it was that advertising the views of radical social conservatives through the right wing media backfired on the GOP. Yet these social conservatives aren’t going anywhere. For these people who still make up an enormous part of the Republican Party’s base the gay marriage issue is not something they will simply give up. However, Republicans have begun to realize that going after the gay community is often tantamount to political suicide. Face it guys, it is difficult to sell people on hate.
But that doesn’t mean there will be any less of it, maybe justfewer incendiary antics. Most likely what we will begin to see is a firmly anti-gay movement that gets smarter about their opposition. Having realized that the rabble rousing tactics of those like Sean Hannity are only really good for getting you made fun of on The Daily Show, I predict that those opposing gay marriage moving forward are going to take a cue from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, and carry a big stick.