The South And Gays

Marriage equality is fast gaining support in … South Carolina:

There’s a fascinating new poll number out of South Carolina that tells you everything you need to know about where the politics of same-sex marriage in the country are headed and why Republicans need to be very careful with how they handle the issue in the coming years. The number is 52 percent — as in the percentage of  South Carolinians who believe that marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized under law, according to a new Winthrop University poll conducted for The State newspaper. But, consider this: In 2006, the Palmetto State passed a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage with 78 percent of the vote.

I remember going to Columbia, South Carolina, to give a speech about marriage equality at some point in the late 1990s. I was trepidatious, to say the least, but thrilled to be invited into the lion’s den. At one point, I remember asking one of the organizers for her fax number – yes, I know! – so I could send some materials. She nearly had a conniption. If she got a fax about gay marriage at her company, it would be curtains for her, she said (put that in the pro-ENDA column, if you’re counting). So all the organizing had to be done in secret or in code.

But when I got there, the crowd was huge, and the reception intense. The thing about gays is that we are randomly distributed across the country with each generation. That means there are many, many gays in the South – and they are not isolated from wider cultural trends. They tend to be more conservative, which is why the marriage and military fights brought them more into the fold of the national struggle. So I’m not too surprised by anecdotal evidence of peer-to-peer toleration, even if the public debate at the elite level is still so harsh. But then I think that goes for the whole debate: the political leadership is way behind the popular shift.

Josh Marshall reflects on how far we’ve come:

Now it’s hard to say what the most conservative state in the country is. Idaho and Wyoming conservatism is different from Deep South conservatism. And earlier this year Nate Silver used various statistical evidence to argue that either Alabama or Mississippi would be the last states to give way on equality. But South Carolina is about as conservative as states come, especially in terms of the fundamentalist bible-drenched brand of conservatism which is the sheet anchor of hardcore opposition to same sex marriage.

And yet even here, likely within a few years, support for same sex marriage will likely be the majority position. That’s great for full civic equality. But it’s perilous for the political fortunes of equality opponents. Remember, just today John Boehner announced that he opposed the ENDA workplace civil rights bill, even though it’s sailing through the Senate. That looks to soon be a minority and just as importantly politically and generationally isolating position.

Greg Sargent makes similar points about ENDA. The bill is cruising through the Senate:

[T]he Senate voted 61 to 30 to advance the legislation. Unexpectedly, seven Republicans voted with the majority, and the number might have been higher had nine members not missed the vote.

In an interesting twist, 30 Republicans backed the filibuster, but not one was willing to deliver remarks against ENDA. The same thing happened in committee, when most of the GOP senators opposed the bill, but none was willing to say a word. It’s a reminder that we’ve reached a fascinating point in the larger debate – Republicans don’t want expand protections against discrimination, but they’re reluctant to defend their position out loud.

Beutler puts the GOP House’s opposition to ENDA in context:

[T]he political logic of leaning on the House is solid, even if it doesn’t result in substantive accomplishments. It clarifies who the villain is. Like a game of Clue, but with a single culprit, crime scene and weapon. The GOP, in the House, with the speaker’s gavel. … Big Senate bills in and of themselves won’t shake House Republicans out of their paralysis. It’s unrealistic to expect the House will address all of these issues and it’s possible they won’t address any of them. But the constituent groups to whom these issues matter — Latinos, the LGBT community, women, African-Americans and young people — won’t be confused about who killed them.

If the GOP doesn’t adjust, it’s doomed. Even at some point, in the South.