Opinion Are Republicans coming for marriage equality next? Yes they are.


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Paul Waldman

July 18, 2022 at 2:00 p.m. EDT
Having dispatched Roe v. Wade, Republicans may soon be coming for marriage equality. Many Republicans say that’s not true: Their line of the moment is that while the Supreme Court decision that established marriage equality was a terrible miscarriage of justice, they have too much else to worry about at the moment to push for it to be overturned.
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Should you believe them? Probably not. After all, right now this is not a party that is unwilling to revisit its past defeats to see if they can be reversed. And the best way for Democrats to stop it from happening is to make it an issue, and use against every Republican.
In his decision overturning Roe v. Wade, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. referred to the “unfounded fear” that after declaring there is no constitutional right to abortion, the court might next overturn other decisions, including Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that established marriage equality. Not to worry, Alito said; this decision was about abortion and nothing else.
But other conservatives were not so coy. In his concurrence, Justice Clarence Thomas cited Obergefell as one of a series of “demonstrably erroneous” cases that must be overturned. And on a recent podcast, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a past and future presidential candidate, said that “Obergefell, like Roe v. Wade, ignored two centuries of our nation’s history,” and that it was “clearly wrong when it was decided.”
Cruz went on to say, “I don’t think this court has any appetite” to overturn Obergefell and other decisions such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down state laws outlawing contraception. That’s possible. But one of the only ways Democrats can keep it from happening is to demonstrate to the court’s Republican majority that it would be a political disaster for their party if they did so.
Forget about Republicans saying, “Don’t be silly, we don’t want to make same-sex marriage illegal.” When they say that, what they really mean is, “Let’s talk about something else.”
This is what we used to call a “wedge issue,” one that drives a wedge between one part of your opponent’s party and another. And if Democrats want to figure out how to do it, they should look at how public opinion on marriage equality was transformed in the first place.
Not all that long ago, the idea of same-sex couples marrying was considered so radical that few Democratic politicians wanted to touch it. When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, his position was that those couples should be able to get civil unions — a kind of second-class substitute — but not marriage.
He eventually came around, as did every other Democrat, because politicians usually don’t lead public opinion, they follow it. And the transformation in public opinion was extraordinary. According to Gallup, support for same-sex marriage was at around 40 percent when Obama was elected. When Obergefell was decided it was around 60 percent, and today it’s over 70 percent. Even a majority of Republicans now believe everyone should be able to marry who they choose.
A good deal of credit goes to the marriage equality movement, which decided the right strategy would be to appeal to values even conservatives held, especially the desire for strong and stable families. Many of their TV ads didn’t even include gay people; they featured family members testifying to their love of their gay relatives and the hope that they would be able to raise families of their own.
It was extraordinarily effective — probably the most effective campaign of political persuasion in memory (with the possible exception of the Bush administration’s effort to convince Americans that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction). And it offers a guide for how Democrats can talk about what Republicans are doing now and might do in the future.
It’s hard to imagine what would be more anti-family than nullifying existing marriages and barring committed couples from marrying in the future. Do Republicans really want to break up stable families? What will happen to the kids? Don’t we need more secure families?
If they say “We don’t want to go that far,” one might remind them that the Texas Republican Party just approved a platform saying:
We affirm God’s biblical design for marriage and sexual behavior between one biological man and one biological woman, which has proven to be the foundation for all great nations in Western civilization. We oppose homosexual marriage, regardless of state of origin.
Lest there be any confusion, they added that Obergefell “has no basis in the Constitution and should be nullified.”
That may not be the position of most Republicans — at least for now. Up until a year ago, this appeared to be an issue on which the party had essentially surrendered. Most Republicans hadn’t changed their opposition to marriage equality, but they had accepted that they lost the argument and didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
But the overturning of Roe has energized Republicans, convincing them that they can ride this backlash farther than they thought. Just about everything is up for grabs. And even if most of them don’t want to outlaw same-sex marriage, the conservative base does — and they drive the party’s agenda.
Which is why Democrats should force Republicans to answer whether they want to break up families and make it illegal for millions of Americans to get married. Let’s see if they’ll stand up to their base and say unequivocally not just that this isn’t something they’re interested in pursuing, but that every American should be able to marry the person they love and marriage equality should remain the law of the land.
If they won’t say that, you’ll have a pretty good idea of their real intentions.