I have some hesitation to write this, for several reasons. First, I may be premature in my analysis and may be observing a fluctuation rather than a trend. And also, it goes without saying that some will be furious with me for daring to suggest that their favorite boogieman may no longer be lurking under their bed. But I think it is true; so I’ll say it.
The Republican Party has reached a turning point on gay rights.
To be specific, I think that we have now reached the point where the Republican Party will never again see it to be a winning strategy to oppose gay people. I think that much of the party will continue to be non-supportive of specific gay issues – particularly marriage – but no longer will the justification for such positions be baldly presented as unashamed animus.
Further, and more importantly, no longer will being anti-gay be seen as an integral part of the meaning of “Republican” or a presumed policy determinant. And that is, in my opinion, of tremendous importance. Going forward, Republican politicians will have permission to be fully supportive of gay equality and will not lose status for doing so.
I’ve been observing this for a while. When Cindy McCain received no criticism at all from party leaders for endorsing marriage equality, I found it telling. When Laura Bush announced her tepid support, I became more impressed. As Proposition 8 was overturned without a peep from nearly every prominent Republican, I was frankly surprised. And when Ken Mehlman’s coming out garnered nothing but praise from his predecessors and successors, I finally was convinced that the Party has abandoned it’s knee-jerk raging anti-gay rhetoric for good.
Kate Zernike, writing in the NY Times, notes the non-response to Mehlman.
…in a midterm election cycle that is otherwise fierce, campaigns are largely silent on the issue of same-sex marriage — even as two federal courts have issued similar decisions in recent months upholding the rights of gay people to wed. And when Ken Mehlman, who ran President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004 and then became the party’s chairman, said in an interview in The Atlantic this week that he is gay and is working to support a campaign for same-sex marriage, it was met with little controversy.
Even the commentary accusing him of hypocrisy seemed outweighed by people who wished him well, or merely shrugged.
The muted reaction reflects not only changing values in the country generally, but also, more notably, among many Republicans and conservatives.
Part of this, of course, is the current economic concern. No one is wanting their elected officials to rant and rave about gays when they don’t know whether they will have a job or a home in a year. But more of it is related, I believe, to an awareness that this issue has passed. No one is fired up to fight the gays.
Polls show that acceptance of gay and lesbian Americans is increasing rapidly, that youth overwhelmingly support equality, and that folks are getting used to the idea of gay people being their neighbors, not deviant perverts living in hedonistic San Francisco.
Even the Tea Party’s narrow focus on economic issues has changed the national conversation. NOM may have toured but no one showed up.
And when Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter hop of the homophobia express, you know its because they’ve looked down the tracks and don’t see any advantage in going where it’s going.
Does that mean that the Republican Party is going to rush to support our goals? If the Republican Party takes over the House or the Senate, will they continue to push forward ENDA or repealing all or part of DOMA? Should our community rush to vote for the GOP?
Or not any time soon, anyway. Republicans will remain, for some years to come, a reliable voting block, both in the legislatures and in the ballot box, against full equality. McCain will rant, Cornyn will sneer, and few will hurry to cosponsor needed legislation.
But it does mean that votes will become less and less partisan, that many newer legislators – and even some older ones – are going to come to the startling revelation that they views have “evolved”, that “times have changed” and that “recent research” has helped them to come to policy positions that they do not hold today. And, most importantly, that the fiery invective, fierce denunciation, and waving of Bibles is going to dry up – and, I predict, sooner rather than later.
And I don’t think it’s going to turn back. The social forces that are pushing change are not likely to reverse any time soon. And by the time that the economy ceases to be an all-consuming obsession, too much water will have gone under the bridge to restart an anti-gay campaign. Time is our friend, and the more of it that passes, the weaker the cause against equality will be.
This will, of course, result in a lot of short-term shrill shrieking from those who earn their living, or political relevancy, from “fighting the homosexual agenda.” But even they see the writing on the wall. Yesterday, Ken Blackwell, the anti-gay Ohio social conservative warned:
Disaster Looms If GOP Changes Course On Gay Marriage
That he even has to fear such a thing is a sign that times have changed and that the old Republican anti-gay paradigm is dying. We know it, the Party leadership knows it, our opponents know it. And it is going to be a joy to watch it finally fade away.