Like unwanted suitors who persist in sending flowers and chocolates long after they have been rebuffed, some Republicans continue to believe that if they just push their most retrograde social and economic policies a little bit more aggressively, the electorate will finally succumb to their charms.
But the results of the 2012 election should have conclusively demonstrated that hard-right theology at its most pungent is a hard sell. And there is some hope that other members of the GOP have realized this and are taking some sensible steps toward making the party more appealing to a fast-changing, 21st century electorate.
Last week, several prominent Republicans with moderate bona fides filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage in advance of the court hearing arguments at the end of the month about the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which outlaws same-sex marriage, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The members of the GOP who support overturning these laws pointed out correctly that gay marriage, rather than undermining family values, actually reinforces them by creating a stable, two-parent environment for the children of gay couples and jibes with the conservative principle of the government butting out of people’s lives.
They have some corporate allies as well: Amazon, Pfizer, Microsoft, Starbucks and Citigroup have filed friend-of-the-court briefs, saying that outlawing same-sex unions is bad for business, making it harder to attract and keep top talent and complicating their health care and benefit plans.
Acceptance of gay marriage has grown far more rapidly than many people would have forecast in 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that denying homosexual couples the right to wed was unconstitutional. It was effectively used as a wedge issue in President George W. Bush’s narrow re-election victory the following year. Now, a majority of Americans support marriage equality and President Barack Obama came onboard with his endorsement last year. He had previously been opposed, but explained that his views had evolved, even though one must suspect that his “evolution” was complete when it became politically safe and expedient for it to occur.
Like Obama, several of the Republicans who are now rallying round gay marriage had, until just recently, been opponents or, at least, supporters of civil unions and nothing more. Business executive Meg Whitman, who supported Proposition 8 in her unsuccessful bid to be California’s governor in 2010, has reversed field, as has Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and unsuccessful 2012 GOP presidential aspirant. In an eloquent essay in the magazine American Conservative, Huntsman laid out a robust case for how the Republican Party should change and why support for same-sex marriage should be part of that package.
“The marketplace of ideas will render us irrelevant, and soon, if we are not honest about our time and place in history,” Huntsman wrote. “There is nothing conservative about denying other Americans the ability to (marry) the person they love.”
Huntsman hit the nail on the head on why the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan has faltered when it comes to expanding its appeal beyond its base: “... It’s difficult to get people even to consider your reform ideas if they think, with good reason, you don’t like or respect them.”
Joining with the majority of their fellow countrymen and supporting same-sex marriage would be one way for the GOP to start wooing back some of the voters who have rejected them.