The foundation of political conservatism is resistance to change. It was that way when Edmund Burke lambasted the French revolutionary refusal to accept feudal “submission” to “the delightful vision” of Marie-Antoinette; it is that way today. The “Party of No” of recent years is the inheritor of the same intransigence: it still, in the words of William F. Buckley, “stands athwart history, yelling stop.”
This certainly applies to marriage equality, despite a few notable exceptions. As the lawyer for Prop 8’s proponents put it to the Supreme Court in last month’s hearings on Prop 8’s constitutionality, it’s really about “hit[ting] the pause button” — i.e. delaying the inevitable for as long as possible. As support for equality increases throughout all regions of the country, and all age groups, this is manifesting itself in increasingly desperate ways.
Just these past few weeks, for example, Iowa House conservatives expressed support for cutting the pay of pro-marriage equality Iowa Supreme Court justices in order to, in the words of one lawmaker, “hold them responsible for their decision.” In a move along the same lines, the Boy Scouts of America offered a “close but no cigar” nod to gay rights this week, with a proposal to allow openly gay scouts but no openly gay scout leaders in a move the good ole’ boys at the Family Research Council called “incoherent” for its suggestion that “homosexuality is morally acceptable until a boy turns 18.” Time to “put away childish things,” perhaps, as St. Paul put it. And just two weeks ago, the Republican National Committee renewed its support for “marriage as a union of one man and one woman” after a short-lived post-presidential election bout of “soul-searching” around their lack of support from large sections of the electorate — including millennials — that do support marriage equality.
The political dangers of this position are clear, separate from the obvious psychological and emotional and physical damage it causes to LGBT folks, especially young people, who — the stats show — experience the effects of homophobia in a multiplicity of real, destructive, brutal ways. In just the last month, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) expressed his stupification at the fact that the Republican Party has a dismally low level of support from black folks, when, after all, the GOP was responsible for — just recently — abolishing slavery, and because blacks should be ever so beholden to the party that freed them. Never you mind about the enduring significant support for laws against interracial marriage in certain sections of the Republican electorate. Never you mind the “Southern strategy” on which Republican electoral victories under Nixon and Reagan were built. Never you mind conservative opposition to Civil Rights and integration in the latter part of the 20th century, based, as it was, on “principled” opposition to “big government” intervention in “states’ rights.”
On each of those fronts, conservatives were on the losing side, continuing to thwart and blockade and obstruct even after it became crystal clear that they’d lost the argument. In the process, they alienated black voters, whose support for the GOP went from 39% in 1956 to just 6% in 2012.
In short, then, “standing athwart” history, eternally pressing “the pause button” as the scenery changes behind you, may work to stall change, but, when it inevitably comes, it tends to leave you behind. Just wait for the great 2016 GOP “Why didn’t we get more millennial support?” soul-search for evidence of that.