When Bill Clinton moved to open the military to gays in 1993, the GOP and conservative Democrats led the effort to oppose gay rights. In 1996, Hawaii flirted with gay marriage and the GOP again led the charge against gay equality, culminating in the federal response known as the “Defense of Marriage Act”.
Flash forward fourteen years to the present. Gay marriage is ruled a federal right for the first time and the response from the GOP is… tepid. Not one nationally prominent elected official thought the issue was important enough to get worked up over. The only cries of outrage were from politically active religious groups.
Recently when both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the U.S. House voted to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, hardly a critical peep was heard regarding the votes of leading GOP figures (with the exception of John McCain who was facing a conservative primary challenger).
Complicating matters for social conservatives, polls show even a majority of Republican voters support abolishing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
These swift changes in the GOP from gay bashing a la Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech towards tolerance and even support of gay equality is both astonishing and alarming to elements of the far right. Several prominent social conservatives have decried these changes. WorldNetDaily Editor David Kupelian recently wrote “Much of conservatism has now morphed into libertarianism…even high profile conservative warriors seem to be abandoning the gay issue” and went on to list recent examples of gay rights making progress within the GOP such as Glenn Beck’s announcement that gay marriage presents no threat to America, Ann Coulter addressing the gay conservative group GOProud, and CPAC’s refusal to ban GOProud. Social conservative Robert Knight bemoaned the fact that Republicans are increasingly supportive of gay equality in his column “Smarter than God”; and the American Family Association’s radio host Bryan Fischer also blasted Republicans for failing to sufficiently support the anti-gay cause.
This past week the Washington Blade even published an article titled “Conservatives take the lead in marriage fight” arguing that libertarian-leaning conservatives are advancing gay rights, perhaps more so than Democrats. Who would have thought in 1992 we would one day see Republicans lauded by the gay press?
The list of conservatives supporting gay equality is growing – from the many Republican appointed judges who have ruled in favor of various gay rights cases, to GOP Solicitor General Ted Olson, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and even the ultraconservative former Vice President Dick Cheney. Nowadays Margaret Hoover of Fox News sits on the board of GOProud alongside conservative Grover Norquist; and even Elisabeth Hasselbeck has come out in support of gay marriage rights.
A growing list of conservative writers and activist have endorsed various gay causes as well. Philip Klein at the American Spectator and talking head Mike Gallagher oppose “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and pundit George Will has remarked that with changing attitudes and demographics, “homosexuality will soon be a non-issue in the military”.
A telling incident occurred this past week when an Iowa Republican candidate made anti-gay remarks and the state GOP chairman publicly rebuked him, claiming his statements were “inappropriate and in no way represent the beliefs of the Republican Party of Iowa”.
What is happening to the GOP? First our elected officials tire of bashing gays and now our pundits? Perhaps Republicans are beginning to see the writing on the wall. Public opinion is changing rapidly in favor of gay marriage rights. In just 10 years gay marriage has become legal in 10 countries, 5 U.S. States and the District of Columbia. A just released CNN poll found half of all U.S. citizens now support gay marriage and Columbia researcher Suzanne Goldberg reported on CNN that “research indicates younger people are beginning to see sexual orientation as a benign variation”. Even the Tea Party has generally sat on the sideline on social issues, preferring to focus on matters of economics and less government.
The religious right may be having a conniption, but younger Republicans increasingly appear to believe that opposing gay equality is inconsistent with a belief in increased liberty and smaller government. Although the religious right will continue to be a strong presence in the GOP for years to come, changing demographics are not on the side of anti-gay forces and the GOP appears to be awakening to this reality.