Gay Marriage: Republicans Can't Turn It Into a Winning Issue


The damage has been done, the credibility lost, and the consequences cannot be undone.  The GOP has lost the support of the LGBT community and their supporters, and a reversal on gay marriage is too little, too late. The GOP will lose support from their socially conservative base in the south and southwest if they come out nationally in support of gay marriage, and the party will continue to lose support from millennials and more liberal states such as Massachusetts, New York, and California if they do not support gay marriage. The only safe position would have been one of neutrality, allowing states to make up their own minds on marriage, leaving the federal government out of the issue. However, the opportunity to take up a less damaging position has come and gone. The GOP is literally in a "damned if they do, and damned if they don’t" position.  There is no party level-position that helps the GOP move out of the current negative press morass on LGBT issues.

Enlightened Republicans such as Meg Whitman have recently come out in favor of marriage equality. Of course, she is from California, which has moved substantially away from Proposition 8 as it is challenged in the Supreme Court. Similarly, GOP party members from states like Massachusetts have come out recently and publicly in favor of marriage equality, including Republican senate candidate Michael Sullivan. GOP politicians such as Whitman and Sullivan know that if they wish to be successful in their home states, continuing to oppose marriage equality is a losing issue. However, other groups such as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) have recently blocked gay groups from participating in the CPAC conference this March, including GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans. The anti-LGBT wing of the GOP is best exemplified by Tea Party leaders such as former senator Jim DeMint. Which position will become the face of the party?

If the GOP hopes to make gains in the coming elections, the party must win over Hispanics, young voters, educated people, and white women. These groups have been leaning toward Democrats in recent elections, and these groups arguably re-elected Barack Obama. The unfortunate news for social conservatives is that these groups are overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality. A recently published Quinnipac University Poll makes it clear that the if the GOP wants to make inroads into groups that are costing them national elections, opposing marriage equality is a losing issue.

Similarly, strong traditional GOP supporters are actively opposed to gay marriage, including conservative Christians, southerners, churchgoers, etc.  This is the core of the Republican base and the most loyal supporters of the GOP.  Gallup data make it quite clear that individuals who identify as republicans are opposed to gay marriage by a 3:1 margin.

The GOP is at a crossroads. Does the party as a whole come out as supporting marriage equality? When looking toward the future, this is the strongest possible position.  However, this means alienating the current base. The majorities held by the GOP in the House and many state governments are vulnerable. The Senate lost ground due to the socially conservative stances of two Tea Party candidates who spoke out against gay marriage Todd Aiken and Richard Mourdock. However, these two candidates also made absurd comments about rape as well. If social conservatives stay home, the GOP loses in the short term and could become irrelevant. If the GOP does not make inroads with non-traditional groups, it loses eventually anyway.

There is no upside for the GOP with marriage equality regardless of which stance they take nationally.