Two weeks ago, Republican U.S. senator Orrin Hatch declared, “Let's face it: anybody who does not believe that gay marriage is going to be the law of the land just hasn't been observing what's going on.” Such candor is rare in Washington, but is increasingly becoming the declared position of a number of Republicans across the country who see the writing on the wall and are easing into their acceptance of the coming reality, or who remain silent on the issue despite personal opposition to marriage equality. It’s a moment of choosing for the GOP.
It’s also a moment of choosing for the LGBT community — in two regards: Will we follow this fight through to the finish, or will we quit before the day is won? We also need to ask, Will we be as gracious in victory as people like Senator Hatch have been to us in loss?
Now is not the time to fall asleep at the wheel. With a string of marriage equality victories in the courts following the Supreme Court’s Windsor decision last year and cases in the pipeline in states that currently deny marriage equality, there is a temptation to assume all verdicts will be favorable to the pro-equality movement. Let’s pack it up and head to Fire Island!
Not so fast — it was only two years ago that voters in North Carolina enshrined a ban on same-sex marriage equality in the state’s constitution, and while the GOP in that state recently removed support for a federal marriage amendment from its party platform, the party upheld its support for the 2012 ballot measure. On second thought, it might be a good idea to postpone that weekend at the beach.
The fact is there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to educate conservatives and people of faith on issues of equality — especially in deep red states represented by individuals such as Senator Hatch, even more so in the gerrymandered slivers of congressional districts — if marriage equality is to avoid a national polarization similar to the decades-long and still-ongoing rift that followed the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion.
Despite the leadership of commonsense conservatives in states like Nevada (where the state GOP purged its platform of opposition to marriage equality) and Marin County, Calif. (that went so far as to explicitly support marriage equality in its platform) the Texas Republican Party endorsed the snake-oil practice of so-called ex-gay therapy in its platform but a week ago. Do we just roll our eyes and say, “That’s Texas for you!” (as many have done), or do we keep pushing to get Republicans on the right side of history? The Movement Advancement Project pegs the number of LGBT adults in Texas at 629,428 — without even asking one of them, I can tell you what their answer is.
A look at recent polling shows that there is a generational shift happening among the Republican electorate on the marriage equality issue — and not just among the “millennials” pundits are always buzzing about: A 2013 Washington Post poll found that Republicans and GOP-leaning independents ages 18 to 49 support marriage equality. This isn’t just a bunch of fresh-faced collegiate idealists; this represents a significant bloc of voters that begins at the start of Generation X and even creeps into the Baby Boomers. There is another generational rift: More than four in 10 of those ages 50 and older (42 percent) are regular voters, about double the proportion of 18-to-29-year-olds, according to a 2006 Pew study. So while support for marriage equality exists among the younger generation, we are unlikely to see that change represented at the ballot box unless potential voters age 18-49 become actual voters age 18-49. More work needs to be done to make that happen.
And what to do when we win? Rub it in the face of our opposition? I certainly hope not. In April conservative icon George Will was swept with an epiphany similar to that of Senator Hatch in which he declared, “The gay rights movement is winning, particularly with regard to same-sex marriage, with a speed and breadth that simply takes your breath away.” But his statement came with a postscript — a caveat to civil marriage equality advocates uncivil in victory: “No one likes sore losers, but now we have sore winners,” he added.
We’re in the home stretch of the marriage equality movement; let’s sprint to the finish. Then, once we’re there, let’s be noble in our win.
GREGORY T. ANGELO is the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. Visit LogCabin.org for more info.