The Marriage Equality End Game

Mar 12 2014 @ 12:39pm

I confess once again to being a little sideswiped by the sudden uptick of momentum in national support for marriage equality. I shouldn’t be. It was perfectly clear three decades ago that the arguments for equality were much stronger than the arguments against. And key debating points have been seriously and consecutively won, culminating in the logical devastation of the case against marriage equality in the Prop 8 trial.

But what I under-estimated, I think, was Pew Marriagethe personal dynamic. Simply put: it’s extremely hard to oppose marriage equality when you know someone who is gay. It requires you to hold a position that clearly treats the human being in front of you as inferior – or at least it sure can feel that way. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a reasoned, theological argument that gays should be denied equal treatment under the law. It simply means that even if you hold that principled position, you will increasingly feel like an isolated asshole with gay friends, family members and colleagues. And few actively want to be an asshole. I think that’s in part what fuels Rod Dreher’s passion. He’s a decent guy, and it anguishes him to think others will think he isn’t. He’s a humane person who nonetheless has to come off as inhumane to almost any gay person and many straight ones.

But when people resolve the struggle between theory and the human person – and it’s only resolved by embracing the whole person, including her sexual orientation – the denial of equality can seem increasingly outrageous. No straight person would ever acquiesce to the idea that he or she does not have a right to marry. Such a denial seems redolent only of slavery’s evil treatment of African-Americans. And who can really demand that another human being never experience love, commitment and intimacy? And so, over time, the country is sorting itself into two camps: most everyone in one camp, and older, white evangelicals – who have often never met a gay person – in the other. Which means a huge headache for the GOP.

Nora Caplan-Bricker summarizes the latest from Pew:

The study found 69 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds support same-sex marriage, versus 54 percent of people overall. Unsurprisingly, young people who lean Democrat favor gay marriage the most heavily; 77 percent are pro. But the most interesting data is on the other side of the aisle, where 61 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans say they support legal marriage for same-sex couples—a 39-point gap over Republicans 65-and-over.

So we’re wrong to focus on seniors as such. In fact, senior support for marriage equality has recently seen some of the sharpest increases of any age cohort. It’s the old and Republican who increasingly seem isolated. Allahpundit notices the Democratic generational convergence:

The most striking numbers there, actually, are how small the differences are between various Democratic age groups. It’s an astounding consensus to have 18-year-old and 65-year-old Dems both above 60 percent support and within 15 points of each other on a practice that was barely on the cultural radar 20 years ago. Makes me wonder how many senior-citizen votes the GOP picked up over the last decade as the 65+ demographic sorted itself out. And how many younger votes it lost.

Elizabeth Nolan Brown wonders why young, gay-friendly Republicans stay with the party:

People say that young adults outgrow liberalism, which may be frequently true on economic issues. But it seems less likely that this generation will eventually “grow into” social intolerance. Certain liberal cultural ideas—like tolerance toward homosexuality and marijuana use—aren’t going anywhere. As the Times puts it: “This youthful libertarianism is not fading when the Republicans of tomorrow graduate from college.”

Right now, the Republican party is losing young independents because of its insistence on making culture war issues preeminent. But they could soon start losing more young Republicans, too. The Times suggests that GOP politicians embrace more libertarian attitudes or pay the price in upcoming elections. But as someone with no vested interest in whether Republicans win elections, I think the more interesting question is why all these socially-liberal young folks still self-identify as Republicans?

Jonathan Martin’s NYT piece suggests we may be hitting a tipping point within the GOP. Leah Libresco watched a panel on social issues at CPAC:

Throughout the panel, the social conservatives seemed to be soliciting the help of the libertarians, trying to speak their language, while the libertarians seemed indifferent to the idea of converting social conservatives. The libertarians answered the questions that were posed to them but made no parallel attempts to appeal to socially conservative tenets in order to attract their fellow panelists to libertarian positions.

Because they’re living in the 21st Century!