New gay marriage rhetoric may sway conservatives

BY CONNOR BURNS ‘13
Senior Staff

The tides of history favor progress — some kinds more slowly than others. When considering the gay rights movement, which began only about 40 years ago, depending from when you’re counting, it’s easy to see progress has been swift since its genesis.

The Republican Party, historically highly opposed to gay rights, has all but ceased its opposition to equal rights. The Republican National Committee’s “autopsy” of the 2012 election cycle recommended tamping down the level of rhetoric used relating to gay rights and discussion of opposition in general.
F&M’s own Ken Mehlman ’88, former chair of the Republican National Committee, has spearheaded an effort to repeal his work with the help of as many Republicans as possible.

In 2005, as head of the Committee, Mehlman attempted to reach out to African-Americans, tacitly acknowledging the GOP’s dark history of opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. In retrospect, his efforts proved too little too late, and no noticeable demographic shift occurred. Now he’s trying to do the same in reaching out to the gay rights movement. His efforts represent a seismic shift in American politics that will help make America a better place for everyone.

Of course, most people reading this will have noticed a series of red equal signs on their Facebook feeds by now. These reference the recent pair of hearings at the Supreme Court this week considering the issue of gay marriage and show support for marriage equality. The shape of the debate about gay rights, however, has begun to focus less on equality and more on freedom.

Rhetoric about equality appeals tremendously to liberals, but the new framing of gay marriage focuses more on freedom, which wins over moderates and conservatives more effectively. Conservatives favor limited government — except when you don’t agree with them. Mehlman’s efforts to bring the GOP around on this issue demonstrate an earnest, and highly plausible, belief that core Republican values should be in favor of gay rights, not in opposition to them.

Is it too late for Republicans on this issue? The Republican Party still cannot attract large numbers of African-American voters because of its prolonged efforts decades ago to preserve racial segregation. It may have already permanently alienated supporters of gay rights as well, unless the party performs a complete about-face.

A majority of the American public now favors giving gays the right to marry, gays can serve openly in the military, and, despite what the Supreme Court does or doesn’t decide in the coming months on the issue, gay marriage will soon be a common and uncontroversial fact of American life (as it should have been from the start).

Are the old culture wars a thing of the past? Probably not. The debate about gun control continues to simmer bitterly, while even taxes are now a pivotal issue in the battle for American values. But, increasingly, gay rights will eventually become a thing people feel uncomfortable opposing.As Republicans grow silent on the issue, some of their ranks now openly support it. There will come a time in the upcoming years — soon, I hope — that opposition will become impossible, and support for this issue will be universal as our society becomes a more accepting and loving place.

Questions? Email Conner at cburns@fandm.edu.

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