On November 2, 2004, George W. Bush was re-elected President of the U.S. and voters in 11 states approved constitutional amendments that banned same-sex marriage.
Many pundits believed that the ballot measures helped Bush, who during the campaign spoke in support of a U.S. constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Bush’s support for a marriage ban helped him in Ohio, which carried him over the top. Karl Rove, Bush’s political adviser, told the New York Times that there was “a broad consensus” against same-sex marriage, which helped pass anti-gay amendments in 11 states “by considerable margins.... People do not like the idea or the concept of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman being uprooted and overturned by a few activist judges or a couple of activist local officials.” “It was these value voters who ushered the president down the aisle for a second term,” crowed Tony Perkins, president of the religious right Family Research Council (FRC).
More than a decade later, Karl Rove’s “consensus” on same-sex marriage seems to have shifted to the other direction. Barack Obama was elected President in 2008 while he was still “evolving” on the issue and re-elected in 2012 after he made his support for marriage equality quite clear.
The Democratic Party is firmly united in support of same-sex marriage rights, as is that party’s leading presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Republicans, however, are in a quagmire. On the one hand, they realize that most Americans now support marriage equality. On the other hand, they do not want to alienate their base, mostly religious conservatives whose views have not changed since 2004.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the first Republican to declare his candidacy for President of the United States, has no doubts. On April 9 Cruz appeared before a presidential candidate forum in Iowa and expressed his support for “religious freedom” laws that allow businesses to discriminate against LGBT people and others who offend their faith.
Cruz warned that a “jihad is being waged right now in Indiana and Arkansas, going after people of faith who respect the biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. ... We need to bring people together,” Cruz said, reminding his audience of the days when there was a bipartisan consensus in favor of “religious liberty” and against “gay marriage.”
“This election needs to be about bringing together that consensus again, and that’s got to come from the people.”
I don’t blame the GOP for being bewildered. In 2004 marriage inequality was a sure road to victory. A decade later, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage.
Even so, most GOP primary voters agree with Senator Cruz.
“Any presidential candidate seeking the Republican Party nomination in 2016 has to be very careful not to poke a stick in the eye of that base vote in any state,” said Gary Marx, executive director of the Faith and Freedom Council. Meanwhile, the FRC’s Perkins, who was the cock of the walk right after the 2004 elections, now warns that if the Republican Party “abandons marriage, evangelicals will either sit the elections out completely - or move to create a third party. ... Either opinion puts Republicans on the path to a permanent minority.”
Not surprisingly, GOP hopefuls Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, like Cruz, have toed the FRC party line. Even Kentucky’s “moderate” Senator Rand Paul said that same-sex couples should not describe their relationship as a “marriage,” because it “offends myself and a lot of people.” He and the equally “moderate” Jeb Bush firmly support “religious freedom” laws.
There may be many reasons for an LGBT person to vote Republican in 2016, but LGBT rights is not one of them. While the rest of us have moved on, GOP candidates remain stranded in 2004. While that might help them in their primaries, it will do them no good in November of 2016.